Zurich/Geneva, Switzerland
Reuters

Countries that have locked down their populations to prevent the spread of coronavirus need to put a premium on finding new cases and doing everything they can "to suppress and control" the virus, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said US President Donald Trump had displayed "political commitment" and "leadership" to fight the growing epidemic in the United States.

Coronavirus Manhattan empty

The sunset over Manhattan is seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York City, US, on 24th March, 2020. PICTURE: Reuters/Caitlin Ochs

The WHO had warned on Tuesday the United States could become the global epicentre of the pandemic, as India announced a full 24-hour, nationwide lockdown in the world's second-most populous country.

Tedros, speaking at a news conference, also praised the "difficult but wise decision" taken on Tuesday to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, saying it aimed to safeguard the health of athletes and spectators.

He said some countries had wasted time in marshalling resources to combat the outbreak, however.

"We have been saying to the world that the window of opportunity is narrowing and the time to act was actually more than a month ago, two months ago," Tedros said.

"But we still believe that there is opportunity. I think we squandered the first window of opportunity. This is a second opportunity which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus."

WHO officials warned again the world faced a "significant shortage" of personal protection equipment for health workers, particularly masks, gloves, gowns and face shields. 

Tedros was due to seek support for ramping up production and funding from Group of 20 leaders holding a summit on Thursday, the officials said.

New York's Governor said on Wednesday there were tentative signs that restrictions were slowing the spread of the coronavirus in his state though its situation remained dire, while the crisis deepened in hard-hit New Orleans and other parts of the United States.

Tedros, asked about Trump's management of the crisis, said it required political leadership.

"And that's exactly what he is doing, which we appreciate. Because fighting this pandemic needs political commitment and commitment at the highest level possible.

"But not only the whole-of-government approach, but the other [things] like expanding testing and the other recommendations we are making are also in play, and he takes that seriously and that is what we see," he added.

On India, Tedros said: "India has the capacity, and it's very important and good to see that India is taking early measures. This will help you to suppress and control it as soon as possible before it gets serious.

"So it's very important, like what is happening now in India which we really commend to cut it from the bud, when you only have 606 cases."

The highly contagious coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, has caused entire regions to be placed on lockdown and in some places soldiers are patrolling the streets to keep consumers and workers indoors, halting services and production and breaking supply chains.

 

CORONAVIRUS LATEST

• Nearly 435,400 people have been infected across the world and more than 19,500 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

 

EUROPE
• Summer is unlikely to stop the spread of the virus, and every country in Europe is forecast to run out of intensive care beds by mid-April unless it acts fast, the European Union's disease control agency said on Wednesday.

• European Union states need 10 times as much personal protective equipment and other medical devices than traditional supply chains can provide, an internal EU document showed on Wednesday.

• The death toll in northern Italy's Lombardy region has risen by around 296 in a day to some 4,474, a source familiar with the data said on Wednesday. If confirmed, it will be the lowest daily death toll in Lombardy since 19th March.

• Italy's trade unions said the government had agreed to shut more firms to protect workers' safety.

• It would be wrong to read too much into numbers showing a lower relative rate of deaths in Germany since it is still at the beginning of the epidemic, a health ministry spokesman said.

• British regulators will take action against any companies found to be profiteering from the coronavirus emergency, the prime minister's spokesman said on Wednesday. Britain, which launched a WhatsApp campaign against misinformation, is to detail on Thursday how it will help self-employed workers who risk losing income.

• Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, has tested positive and is self isolating in Scotland with mild symptoms.

• Kosovo's coalition government faces a no-confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday after a dispute over whether to declare a state of emergency.

• Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed a nationwide vote on constitutional changes that would allow him to extend his rule.

 

AMERICAS
• The burden caused by coronavirus accelerated across the United States on Wednesday beyond New York, California and Washington state as Louisiana and others faced a severe crush on their healthcare systems.

• Many of Brazil's 850,000 indigenous people are urging officials to expel from their lands outsiders who could introduce the disease.

• Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed virus "hysteria" and urged mayors and state governors to roll back lockdown measures that have brought Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to near standstills.

• Mexico temporarily halted the processing of asylum requests from Tuesday, as its cases climbed to 405.

• An emergency aid package for Canadians facing economic harm from the outbreak was stalled.

 

ASIA PACIFIC
• Australia will expand testing, its Prime Minister said on Wednesday as Canberra struggles to contain the outbreak.

• Mainland China reported a drop in new cases on Wednesday as imported infections fell and no locally transmitted infections were reported.

• Singapore reported 73 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, the city-state's biggest daily jump.

• India woke up to a sweeping lockdown of its 1.3 billion people, but the order did not stop crowds of people thronging to stock up at grocery shops and chemists.

• The Indian Government banned the export of a key malaria drug, as experts test its efficacy in treating patients with COVID-19.

• Thailand recorded 107 new cases on Wednesday, bringing its total to 934, while South Korea's tally rose to 9,137 with 100 new infections.

• Singapore's government said on Wednesday it was not ruling out holding a general election during the outbreak.

 

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
• Israelis were instructed on Wednesday to stay within 100 metres of their homes under tightened restrictions that further reduced public transport, required employers to check workers for fever and set sanctions for people who defy rules.

• About half of Iran's government employees were staying at home on Tuesday as the country's death toll topped 2,000.

• Pakistan is seeking another $US1.4 billion loan from the IMF.

• Egypt has declared a two-week curfew, and those who violate the measure will be penalised under emergency laws, the Prime Minister said.

• The Nigerian Army is preparing to forcibly transfer the sick to hospital and enforce restrictions, and is leasing equipment for "possible mass burial", according to an army memo seen by Reuters.

• Congo closed its borders and imposed a state of emergency.

• Mali and Guinea-Bissau reported their first cases on Wednesday.

 

ECONOMIC FALLOUT
• A breakneck rebound in world stocks made it past the 10 per cent mark on Wednesday before more global coronavirus warnings and fresh turbulence in commodity markets saw things grind to a halt.

• Seventy per cent of people in G7 countries expect their household to lose income due to the outbreak, according to a survey on Wednesday.

• US senators and Trump administration officials agreed on a massive economic stimulus bill early on Wednesday, with the Senate set to vote on the $US2-trillion package later in the day and the House of Representatives vote expected soon after.

• Germany, whose economy could contract by as much as 20 per cent this year, is open to using the European Stability Mechanism to prop up economies under certain circumstances, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Wednesday.

• German lawmakers on Wednesday voted to suspend the debt brake for the first time ever to finance an aid package meant to help shield Europe's largest economy.

•  Venezuela has opened talks with China over possible financial support to cope with a sharp drop in oil prices and the arrival of coronavirus, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

• India is likely to agree an economic stimulus package of more than $US19.6 billion, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

 

EVENTS
• The Cannes Film Festival venue is opening its doors to the town's homeless who have nowhere to go during the lockdown.

• Two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut were spending their final weeks on Earth in quarantine before they are scheduled to blast off on 9th April for the International Space Station.

- Compiled by SARAH MORLAND, MILLA NISSI and ADITYA SONI