WHO warns of two million COVID-19 deaths as Europe clamps down

PARIS: The World Health Organisation warned that coronavirus deaths could more than double to two million if safety measures are not kept up as Europe faces mounting cases and the US crossed another bleak milestone.

Global deaths had reached 985,707 from more than 32.3 million cases. The hardest-hit US crossed seven million cases, more than a fifth of the global total despite accounting for only four percent of the world population.

“One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters when asked how much higher deaths could mount.

He added: “Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number? If we don’t take those actions… yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly much higher.”

The WHO warning came as Spanish officials expanded a lockdown in and around Madrid to cover one million people. Madrid’s health authority said new rules largely banning tens of thousands from leaving their districts in addition to the 850,000 already living under similar restrictions would be enforced from Monday.

Across Europe, new spikes were springing up, with Poland and France the latest to register record figures. France’s daily cases soared past 16,000 for the first time in a stark indicator of the virus’s resurgence.

British authorities announced restrictions now extending to one-quarter of the country’s population, while two supermarket chains said they were rationing purchases of certain goods to clamp down on panic buying.

Moscow ordered vulnerable residents to avoid infection by staying at home, while Israel tightened its lockdown by stopping people from taking flights out of the country.

In Brazil, the coronavirus fallout for Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous carnival grew as organisers postponed street parties indefinitely, a day after the official parades were scrapped.

Brazil now has the world’s second-highest death toll, nearly 140,000 fatalities against more than 200,000 in the US, and is still battling to bring the virus under control.

Major events disrupted by the pandemic included planned Australian cricket matches against Afghanistan and New Zealand, while the French Open tennis tournament said it would allow only 1,000 spectators each day.

Eastern Europe emerged as another hotspot this week with EU officials warning of an alarming rise in deaths and hospitalisations of vulnerable patients in countries including Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania.

There was a glimmer of hope from a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggested masks could help spread immunity to the virus by limiting people’s exposure to only very small amounts of it.

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