Coronavirus: Americans brace for ‘hardest, saddest’ week of their lives

Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people have been confirmed infected and more than 68,000 have died

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 24: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City. New York City has about a third of the nations confirmed coronavirus cases, making it the center of the outbreak in the United States.   Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP
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Americans braced for what the nation’s top doctor warned on Sunday would be “the hardest and saddest week” of their lives.

And Britain assumed the title of deadliest coronavirus hotspot in Europe after a record 24-hour jump in deaths that surpassed Italy.

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbour moment, our 9/11 moment,’’ US Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on  Sunday.

But for New York City, the hardest-hit US centre of the pandemic, there was a glimmer of hope.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said daily deaths had dropped slightly, along with intensive care admissions and the number of patients who needed intubation.

But Mr Cuomo warned that it was “too early to tell” the significance of those numbers.

Italy and Spain also had some encouraging news. Italy registered its lowest daily increase in deaths in more than two weeks, with 525, said Angelo Borrelli, head of the national Civil Protection agency.

The pace of infection also seemed to be slowing. The country recorded 4,316 new cases on Sunday. Earlier in the outbreak, daily increases topped 6,000.

“This good news shouldn’t make us drop our guard,” Mr Borrelli said.

Confirmed infections also fell in Spain and new deaths declined for the third straight day, dropping to 674.

It was the first time daily deaths had fallen below 800 in the past week.

“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.

The outlook in Britain remained bleak. As of Sunday, the UK had recorded 5,903 virus deaths overall among 47,806 cases.

Those coming down with the virus in the UK include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Prince Charles, heir to the throne.

There are wide fears that Mr Johnson’s Conservative government did not take the virus seriously enough at first and that spring weather will tempt Britons and others to break social distancing rules.

In an address to the nation later on Sunday, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons to exercise self-discipline in “an increasingly challenging time".

The queen, 93, said the pandemic had caused enormous disruption, bringing grief, financial difficulties and challenges to everyone.

It is only the fourth time since her reign began in 1953 that she has given such an address.

“I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” the queen said in pre-released remarks.

“And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sunbathing in public places was not allowed and the UK might even ban outdoor exercise if people insisted on flouting the rules.

“The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home,” Mr Hancock told Sky TV.

“But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that. It’s quite unbelievable, frankly, to see that.”

As the numbers of infections rose, the deputy head of Britain’s National Health Service Providers said the agency needed to focus on getting more ventilators, and protective equipment for healthcare workers.

“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,’’ Saffron Cordery told Sky TV.

Italians have not been immune to lthe lure of the good weather either, even though the country has the world’s highest coronavirus death toll at more than 15,000.

Top Italian officials took to national television after photos showed huge crowds out shopping in Naples, Rome, Genoa and even the hard-hit Veneto city of Padua.

Lombardy Vice Governor Fabrizio Sala said mobile phone data showed 38 per cent of the region’s people were out and about, the highest figure since March 20.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told RAI state television that all of the sacrifices Italians have made since the nationwide lockdown began on March 10 could be reversed.

Restrictions on movement vary from country to country.

In Germany and Britain, residents can leave home to exercise and walk their dogs, and go to the supermarket, the post office and other essential tasks.

But in Serbia and South Africa, dog walking is not allowed.

In France, heat-seeking drones have been whizzing over Fontainebleau forest to identify rule-breakers after the former royal estate in the Paris suburbs was closed to the public.

France has also increased police patrols on horseback and roadblocks to turn back those seeking to escape urban areas.

In Sweden, authorities have advised the public to practise social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants are still open.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and blessed palms for Palm Sunday in a near-empty St Peter’s Basilica.

Usually, tens of thousands of faithful would have crowded the square outside to attend a papal Mass.

Holy Thursday and Easter services will be held the same way.

In the pope’s native Argentina, the faithful had plants at home for a virtual blessing during a livestream of the Palm Sunday service.

Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people have been confirmed infected and more than 65,000 have died, Johns Hopkins University said.

The true numbers are certainly much higher, due to limited testing, different ways countries count the dead and deliberate under-reporting by some governments.

Almost 250,000 people have recovered from the virus, which is spread by microscopic droplets from coughs or sneezes.

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.

The World Health Organisation says 95 per cent of the known coronavirus deaths in Europe have been in people over 60.

The rapid spread of the virus in the US has prompted a rush for desperately needed medical equipment and protective gear.

That has prompted intense arguments between the states and the federal government.

The number of people infected in the US has soared to more than 327,000 as fatalities climbed past 9,300.

On Sunday, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the virus was unlikely to be completely eradicated this year, meaning the US could see the a resurgence during the next flu season.

Mr Fauci told CBS's Face the Nation that the prospect of a resurgence is why the US is working to be better prepared, including in its hunt for a vaccine.