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Coronavirus cases top 900,000 worldwide as US records youngest death

US Navy evacuates virus-struck aircraft carrier Roosevelt


The confirmed cases of the deadly Coronavirus has passed 900,000 worldwide, according to an AFP tally.

A six-week-old baby died of COVID-19 and global agencies warned of food shortages as coronavirus infections around the world neared one million Wednesday.

Governments expanded lockdowns to affect about half of the planet, with funeral parties banned in the Democratic Republic of Congo, New York locking up its famed street basketball courts and hard-hit Italy extending its economically crippling lockdown until April 13.

More than 900,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus and nearly 46,000 have died since it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, according to an AFP tally.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the number would hit one million "in the next few days."

"I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection," he said.

"The entire world is shut down," said US President Donald Trump. "It's very sad."

- Youngest victim -

Cases in the United States soared, rising to more than 213,000, the most anywhere in the world. The death toll in the US over the past 24 hours was a new one-day record of 884, and new known cases exceeded 25,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

"We're going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific. But even in the most challenging of times, Americans do not despair. We do not give in to fear," Trump told an evening news conference.

Among the victims was a six-week-old in Connecticut who was brought unresponsive to a hospital late last week, believed to be the youngest victim yet of the virus.

"Testing confirmed last night that the newborn was COVID-19 positive," Governor Ned Lamont wrote on Twitter. "This is absolutely heartbreaking."

The victims of the new coronavirus have been disproportionately elderly, but a number of recent cases have highlighted that the disease can befall even youngsters with seemingly strong immune systems.

The dead have included a 13-year-old in France, a 12-year-old in Belgium and 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdullah in Britain, whose family said the "gentle and kind" boy had no underlying health issues.

- Tightening curbs -

The US numbers continued to outpace the rest of the globe, though Washington made clear it believes China, with a reported 82,000 cases, is deliberately masking its figures.

"How do we know" if they are accurate, Trump asked at a press conference, not denying a Bloomberg report that US intelligence has concluded China is concealing the extent of the coronavirus pandemic there.

"Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side," Trump said.

Densely populated New York continued to be the US epicenter.

Across the city, refrigerated trucks grimly parked outside hospitals to deal with the surge in bodies.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was closing all playgrounds and basketball courts to enforce "social distancing" to halt transmission.

"You still see too many situations with too much density by young people," he said. "No density, no basketball games."

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all 21 million residents of the Sunshine State to stay inside for one month, after having resisted a lockdown for weeks.

Germany extended to April 19 its bans on gatherings of more than two people outdoors, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning that families may not be able to visit during Easter celebrations.

"A pandemic does not recognize holidays," she said.

In Greece, too, the Orthodox Church's Holy Synod said all churches were to remain closed over the Easter period, the biggest celebration of the year that culminates on April 19.

The global crisis wiped more major events off the calendar with Wimbledon, the signature event of tennis, cancelled for the first time since World War II.

And in a sign of shifting focus, Britain said that UN climate talks due in November in Glasgow were being postponed.

- Warnings of shortages -

Lockdowns have been especially challenging in developing countries, with some of the world's poorest fearing they could lose their livelihoods entirely.

Dwellers of South Africa's townships say it is simply impossible to stay at home.

"We don't have toilets... we don't have water, so you must go out," said Irene Tsetse, 55, who shares a one-bedroom shack in Khayelitsha township with her son.

The Food and Agriculture Organization, WHO and World Trade Organization warned in a joint statement that panic buying already seen in parts of the world could threaten food supplies.

"Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market," they said.

In Italy, half a million more people require help to afford meals, adding to the 2.7 million already in need last year, according to the country's biggest agricultural union Coldiretti.

"Usually we serve 152,525 people. But now we've 70,000 more requests," said Roberto Tuorto, who runs a food aid association.

It is crucial to "ensure that the economic crisis unleashed by the virus doesn't become a security crisis," he warned.

- Spain infections peak? -

Britain and France both reported their highest daily death tolls from COVID-19, although there were signs that the epidemic could be peaking in Europe.

Italy's death toll, the highest in the world, climbed past 13,000, and the government extended its lockdown until April 13.

"If we start loosening our measures now, all our efforts will have been in vain," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the nation in a televised address.

In Spain, deaths passed 9,000 on Wednesday, but the rate of new cases continued to slow.

Fernando Simon, head of the health ministry's emergency coordination unit, said it appeared the country may have passed the peak.

Thousands of sailors evacuated  from aircraft carrier USS  Roosevelt in Guam

The US Navy is evacuating thousands of sailors from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam after its captain warned a coronavirus outbreak was threatening the lives of the crew.

Ninety-three COVID-19 cases have been discovered among the 4,800-strong Roosevelt crew so far, according to the US Navy.

Pentagon officials said Wednesday they were rapidly arranging hotel rooms on the Pacific island for many of the crew, while organizing a skeleton team of uninfected sailors to keep the ship operational.

"The plan at this time is to remove as many people off the Teddy Roosevelt as we can, understanding that we have to leave a certain amount of folks on-board to perform normal watch-standing duties that keep the ship running," Rear Admiral John Menoni, commander for the Marianas region, told reporters in Guam on Wednesday.

Speaking in Washington, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said that almost 1,000 of the crew had been removed, and that that number would rise to 2,700 within a couple days, and more after that.

But they need to retain around 1,000 on board just to maintain the vessel, as it undergoes a thorough sterilization.

"We cannot and will not remove all the sailors from the ship," Modly said.

"This ship has weapons on it, it has munitions on it, it has expensive aircraft, and has a nuclear power plant," he said.

-'Sailors don't need to die'-

Earlier this week the Roosevelt's captain Brett Crozier told his superiors that the new coronavirus was spreading uncontrollably through the ship and called for immediate help to quarantine its crew.

"The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating," Crozier wrote. "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," he pleaded.

"Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure," Crozier said. "This is a necessary risk."

As of Wednesday more than 1,400 Defense Department employees, contractors and dependents had been infected by the novel coronavirus, including 771 military personnel, the Pentagon said.

- Balancing health and security -

The Roosevelt's docking in Guam on March 28 left both of the Pentagon's western Pacific aircraft carriers in port, with the USS Ronald Reagan berthed in Japan, also reportedly suffering an unknown number of coronavirus cases.

Modly admitted it was a challenge for US forces' defense readiness.

"Right now the Teddy Roosevelt is a frontline theater in this new battle," he said.

However, he added, "If the ship needs to go, if there's a crisis, the ship can go."

He stressed that the Roosevelt was the only US Navy ship out of 94 deployed at sea that had active Covid-19 cases.

There were scattered cases in vessels that are not deployed, he added, but in each case only in the single digits.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that while the military was following guidance on social distancing and sanitation, the Roosevelt's plight and the broader pandemic was not eroding the US military's war-fighting abilities.

"There seems to be this narrative out there that we should just shut down the entire United States military and address the problem that way. That's not feasible," he said in the White House.

"We have a mission: our mission is to protect the United States of America and our people. And so we live and work in cramped quarters, whether it's an aircraft carrier, a submarine, a tank, a bomber -- it's the nature of our business."  AFP

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