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British PM in intensive care as virus toll soars

AFP – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to intensive care Monday when his condition worsened in a battle with the coronavirus, as the death toll from the pandemic hit grim new highs in Europe and the United States.

Johnson, the most prominent victim yet of the pandemic, deputized his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to stand in for him, but remained conscious according to Downing Street.

The setback came as the death toll from the virus jumped in Western Europe and soared past 10,000 in the United States — taking the global toll above 73,000, out of more than 1.32 million confirmed cases.

In somber warnings from both sides of the Atlantic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union was facing its “biggest test,” while US officials said Americans should prepare for an ordeal comparable to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Signs of a possible turnaround in Europe — where daily virus tolls have been falling — were dampened by a record new surge of 833 deaths in France on Monday, as well as 636 in Italy.

“We have not reached the end,” said France’s health minister, Olivier Veran.

Admitted to hospital 10 days ago, Britain’s 55-year-old prime minister has not been able to shake the disease.

Johnson was transferred into intensive care as the country’s death toll topped 5,000 — an increase of 400 in a day.

“Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the prime minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital,” said a Downing Street statement.

US President Donald Trump was one of many world leaders who expressed concern, saying “Americans are all praying for his recovery.”

– Light at the end? –

US officials referred cautiously to the first glimmers of hope that the pandemic can be got under control.

Trump spoke again of seeing “light at the end of the tunnel,” while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state is at the epicenter of the crisis, said that for the first time the growth rate there was flat.

Nevertheless, the United States has the world’s highest number of recorded cases and things are sure to get worse in coming days.

“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” US Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, or 9/11 moment.”

Cuomo extended a statewide shutdown, warning: “Now is not the time to be lax.”

– ‘Critical situation’ –

The pandemic has reached almost every corner of the planet, confining nearly half of humanity to their homes and turning life upside down for more than four billion people, according to an AFP tally of populations under some form of lockdown.

The UN Security Council will hold its first coronavirus crisis talks on Thursday — by videoconference — ending weeks of divisions among the five permanent members, diplomats said.

With the ink barely dry on a $2 trillion economic rescue package passed by Congress, Trump said he favored another massive spending program, again roughly at $2 trillion, but this time targeting infrastructure projects.

“We built the greatest economy in the world. I’ll do it a second time,” he said.

Japan announced an imminent state of emergency and a trillion-dollar stimulus package of its own.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the country’s hospitals face a “critical situation” with a rapid increases of new infections.

Italy likewise unveiled a record 400 billion euro ($430 billion) stimulus to help businesses hurt by a month-long national lockdown

Speaking one day ahead of a key eurozone finance ministers’ conference on a joint economic rescue plan, Merkel called for strength.

“In my view… the European Union stands before the biggest test since its founding,” she warned.

“Everyone is just as affected as the other, and therefore, it is in everyone’s interest, and it is in Germany’s interest for Europe to emerge strong from this test,” she said.

Italy, France and Spain want to establish common debt facilities — “coronabonds” — to cushion the economic impact of the virus.

But the richer northern nations have resisted the calls — with Germany and the Netherlands in the lead — fearing their taxpayers will be left to pay.

– India hospital locked down –

In India, the world’s second most populous country after China, a major private hospital in economic hub Mumbai was shut down after 26 nurses and three doctors tested positive, amid complaints from staff that they had been told to work without adequate safety gear.

India has so far recorded 4,000 coronavirus cases among a population of 1.3 billion, but experts warn the real number is likely to be far higher, given the lack of testing.

Yet another cruise ship was snared in the health crisis, with more than 80 passengers and crew testing positive for the cornoavirus aboard an Australian liner off South America.