Virus infections top 600,000 worldwide, long fight ahead

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BERLIN The number of confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide topped 600,000 on Saturday as new cases stacked up quickly in Europe and the United States and officials dug in for a long fight against the pandemic. The latest landmark came only two days after the world passed half a million infections, according to a tally by John Hopkins University, showing that much work remains to be done to slow the spread of the virus. It showed more than 607,000 cases and a total of over 28,000 deaths. While the US now leads the world in reported infections — with more than 104,000 cases — five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France. “We cannot completely prevent infections at this stage, but we can and must in the immediate future achieve fewer new infections per day, a slower spread,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after her doctor tested positive for the virus, told her compatriots in an audio message. “That will decide whether our health system can stand up to the virus.” The virus already has put health systems in Italy, Spain and France under extreme strain. Lockdowns of varying severity have been introduced across Europe, nearly emptying streets in normally bustling cities, including Paris where drone photos showed the city’s landmarks eerily deserted. Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said that Germany — where authorities closed nonessential shops and banned gatherings of more than two in public — won’t relax its restrictions before April 20. In New York, where there are more than 44,000 cases statewide, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 passed 6,000 on Friday, double what it had been three days earlier. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for 4,000 more temporary beds across New York City, where the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has already been converted into a hospital. The struggle to defeat the virus will take “weeks and weeks and weeks,” Cuomo told members of the National Guard working at the Javits Center. President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on Friday, ordering General Motors to begin manufacturing ventilators. Trump signed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package, after the House approved the sweeping measure by voice vote. Lawmakers in both parties lined up behind the law to send checks to millions of Americans, boost unemployment benefits, help businesses and toss a life preserver to an overwhelmed health care system. Dr. John Brooks of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans remained “in the acceleration phase” of the pandemic and that all corners of the country were at risk. “There is no geographic part of the United States that is spared from this,” he said. The European Union has granted Tunisia 250 million euros in aid to help it cope with the economic and social effects of the coronavirus outbreak, EU ambassador Patrice Bergamini said on Saturday in a tweet. Tunisia, which suffers from limited health infrastructure, is fighting to contain the outbreak after it said it had 227 confirmed cases and six deaths. Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said last week that the government was allocating $850 million to combat the economic and social effects of the health crisis. The International Monetary Fund will disburse $400 million to help the country face the effects of the crisis, finance minister Nizar Yaich has said. Tunisia now expects an economic recession, prompting the central bank this month to cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points from 7.75%. Fakhfakh has said the government cut its growth forecast this year to 1% from 2.7% in part due of coronavirus crisis.–Agencies