INDIA’S billion-plus population went into a three-week lockdown on Wednesday, with a third of the world now under orders to stay indoors, as US politicians agreed to spend $2 trillion to counter the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump has voiced hope that the USwill be “raring to go” by mid-April, but his optimism appeared to stand almost alone among world leaders, who were ratcheting up the movement restrictions in a bid to stifle the spread of the disease.
China, where the new virus emerged last year, loosened tough rules on the 50 million people in Hubei province on Wednesday after a months-long lockdown as the country reported no new domestic cases.
The provincial capital Wuhan -- the ground zero of the outbreak after it was initially detected at a market that sold wild animals for human consumption – will allow residents to leave from April 8.
Olympics on hold
The pandemic has cut a swathe through the world’s sporting and cultural events, and on Tuesday claimed the biggest of them all: the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to sound an optimistic note, vowing that the rescheduled Games in 2021 would be “a testament to mankind’s defeat of the new virus”.
The postponement marks the first time that the world’s biggest sporting event, set to open on July 24, has been delayed in peacetime.
Across the planet, the grim Covid-19 toll mounted further, with more than 18,200 deaths and 405,000 declared infections, half of them in Europe, according to an AFP tally.
The medical situation is still critical in Europe, where hardest-hit Italy had mixed news.
The Mediterranean country’s death toll shot back up to 743 after two days of slight decline from a world-record peak of 793 on Saturday. But officially registered new infections rose just eight percent for the second straight day.
Elsewhere Ireland ordered non-essential businesses shut, Britain planned a 4,000-bed emergency hospital in London and Spain called for practical support from the Nato military alliance.
Iran’s president warned that mandatory movement restrictions could be introduced as soon as Wednesday evening in the country, which has seen one of the world’s highest death tolls from the pandemic so far.
And nearly 130 million Americans, or 40 per cent of the population, are under or will soon come under some lockdown order, including in the largest state of California.
Many governments are listening to health experts who warn the only way to slow the epidemic – and save the lives of the elderly and vulnerable – is by imposing “social isolation” measures.
Finance ministers and central bank chiefs of the Group of Seven major industrial democracies vowed to “do whatever is necessary to restore confidence and economic growth and to protect jobs, businesses, and the resilience of the financial system”.