Worldwide coronavirus infection toll hits 200,000 after doubling in less than two weeks
- Cases of the highly contagious virus exceeded 203,000 on Wednesday morning
- The global toll reached six figures on March 7, two months after outbreak began
- But cases doubled in space of 11 days amid fears pandemic can’t be contained
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
The worldwide infection toll for the killer coronavirus has now topped 200,000 after doubling in less than two weeks.
Cases of the highly contagious virus now exceed 203,000, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University.
The global toll reached six figures on March 7, more than two months after the outbreak first began in Wuhan, China, in late December.
But another 100,000 people were infected in just 11 days since then, largely due to a surge in cases in Europe, sparking fears the crisis will only continue to get worse.
At least 160 countries and territories around the world have reported cases in every continent except Antarctica.
The John Hopkins University also recorded 8,006 deaths, suggesting around 4 per cent of patients who catch the virus die from it.
Cases of the highly contagious virus now exceed 203,000, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University
It comes as coronavirus deaths in Europe exceed the toll in Asia for the first time. Europe has suffered at least 3,511 deaths – the majority coming from Italy – compared with 3,384 in Asia
A worker disinfects a room at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 18
Workers disinfect a corridor at the Red Cross hospital – after the number of coronavirus deaths in Europe surpassed Asia for the first time
But experts say the death rate is probably lower than that because of an under-reporting of cases.
Many countries – including the UK – are only testing people who are hospitalised due to the virus.
Thousands of people will make a full recovery without ever knowing they were infected.
When a coronavirus patient recovers from the illness, their body builds up an immunity to it.
If a high enough proportion of a community become protected this way, it stops the disease circulating because the number of people who can be infected is so small. This is called herd immunity.
But China’s top coronavirus expert today warned herd immunity was a counterproductive measure that will not contain the global pandemic because the disease is too infectious and lethal.
Dr Zhong Nanshan, the country’s senior medical adviser told a press conference: ‘Herd immunity won’t solve the problem.’
‘We don’t yet have the evidence to prove that if you are infected once, you would be immune for life. Our next step is to develop effective vaccines, which requires global cooperation.’
It comes as coronavirus deaths in Europe exceed the toll in Asia for the first time.
Europe has suffered at least 3,421 deaths – the majority coming from Italy – compared with 3,384 in Asia.
But Italian coronavirus infections have slowed in recent days after the country took drastic quarantine measures to stop the spread of the pathogen.
The figures are a sobering warning to Britain, which unlike Italy has not closed schools, shut down shops or blocked travel.
The Chinese senior medical adviser (pictured) rebuked UK’s approach to allow citizens to catch the virus to build up a national tolerance strong enough to stop the virus circulating
Dr Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak of the new coronavirus, is pictured visiting a hospital in Wuhan in January
The number of daily cases in Italy has been stagnant in the last four days, settling down at around 3,500 new patients per day.
Yesterday’s increase in the overall tally was 12.6 per cent, the second-lowest rate since the virus began spreading in Italy on February 21 – offering hope that the lockdown is bearing fruit even as the death toll rose by 345 to 2,503.
Italians have been ordered to stay indoors, with schools and universities shut, shops closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies, and heavy restrictions on travel.
But in Britain, which has taken none of those measures, the 407 new cases yesterday represented the largest daily jump since the virus came to the UK.
Experts warn that there is a lag time between health measures being taken and their effects becoming conspicuous.
That suggests the Italian lockdown imposed last week could now be starting to have a noticeable impact.
The number of new infections in the last four days has been fairly stagnant with 3,497 on Saturday, 3,590 on Sunday, 3,233 on Monday and 3,526 on Tuesday.
The Italian death toll rose by 345 to 2,503, with total infections now at 31,506.
The percentage increase in cases has been below 20 per cent for the last few days, falling to 12.6 per cent yesterday.
Britain’s increase yesterday was 26.4 per cent, although it was only 10.9 per cent the day before.
This graph shows the rate of increase in Italian coronavirus cases since February 23. Yesterday’s increase of 12.6 per cent was the second-lowest in that period
This table shows the number of new infections per day, which has flatlined in recent days, settling down at around 3,500 new cases every 24 hours
The signs of a slowing infection rate will be a relief to doctors on the front line of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, who have described ‘catastrophic’ scenes in hospitals which are creaking with the sheer volume of cases.
They tell of critically ill patients who should be in intensive care but are instead slumped in busy wards because of a woeful lack of equipment and staff.
Worryingly, the doctors who have spoken out are from state-of-the-art hospitals which typically provide excellent care but were caught flat-footed by the virus which is stretching their capacity to breaking point.
Medics are struggling to keep pace with the escalating number of cases, including those treating patients at the advanced Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in the wealthy city of Bergamo in the virus-plagued Lombardy region.
The 950-bed hospital has been brought to its knees because of the crisis, with more than 400 of the beds used by coronavirus patients and three of the hospital’s four most senior staff off sick.
Intensive care specialist Mirco Nacoti told the Wall Street Journal: ‘Until three weeks ago, we did everything for every patient.
‘Now we have to choose which patients to put in intensive care. This is catastrophic.’
Hospital workers prepare coffins at the Ponte San Pietro hospital in Bergamo today, in the province of Lombardy which has been the worst-affected region of Italy
Medical staff collect a patient from an ambulance at the second Covid-19 hospital in Rome, Italy, which is fighting the biggest virus outbreak outside of China
The hospital’s once rapid emergency response is also at breaking point, with even people reporting heart attacks waiting an hour on the phone because the lines are being bombarded.
Dr Angelo Giupponi, who coordinates Papa Giovanni’s emergency response, said his team takes 2,500 calls daily and brings 1,500 to hospital.
Signalling the team were caught off-guard by the epidemic, he said that ambulance staff have not been trained for such a contagion, and revealed many have become infected after their vehicles became contaminated.
Dispatcher Diego Bianco, a 40-something with no underlying health conditions, even died.
In a sign that Rome is scrambling to react to the outbreak, Dr Sergio Cattaneo said he has seen unused wards outfitted into an intensive care unit in six days.
He also claims a hospital laundry room was converted into a giant stretcher-filled waiting room and a tented field hospital erected outside to test possible new virus patients.
Dr Cattaneo, head of anesthesiology and intensive care at the public hospital in Brescia in northern Italy, said: ‘What is really shocking – something we had not been able to forecast and brought us to our knees – is the quickness the epidemic spreads.
Most of the 8,000 fatalities recorded across the world have been people who are elderly or suffer underlying conditions, and have weakened immune systems. But Bruce Aylward, who assessed the pandemic in China , said there are an alarming number of young people who have developed complications from the disease
‘If the spreading of this epidemic is not put under control, it will bring all hospitals to their knees.’
Dr Cattaneo’s new ICU added six more beds to the hospital’s capacity, bringing to 42 the number of ICU beds dedicated to the virus.
Across the Lombardy region, local authorities are pushing ahead with plans to build a 400-bed ICU field hospital at the Milan fairgrounds, even though the civil protection agency has warned that it doesn’t have the ventilators or personnel to staff it, and that time is running out.
‘The secret has been – and this should be a strong message for foreign countries – to act early on this, in order to avoid – like in our case – having to chase after it day after day,’ Cattaneo said.
Brescia, an industrial city of nearly 200,000 east of Milan and the capital of a province of 1.2million, is second only to nearby Bergamo in positive cases in Lombardy, the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.
For the past two days, Brescia actually outpaced Bergamo in the number of new infections, on Tuesday adding another 382 positive tests for a total of 3,300 and suggesting that it is becoming Lombardy’s hottest hot spot.
Indeed, seven of Brescia’s deaths this week were among residents of the same nursing home in Barbariga, where another eight elderly people tested positive, local media reported.
While many people suffer relatively mild symptoms from the virus, the mortality rate in Italy in people over 80 is 22 percent, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health.
It has been a race against time for Lombardy to add more ICU beds than the patients who need them, not an easy task given that 10 percent of all Italy’s infected require ICU admission, primarily for respiratory help.
Nearly all admitted patients have interstitial pneumonia, a disease in which the lace-like tissue of the lungs’ alveoli become inflamed, leading to progressive respiratory failure, according to Giovanna Perone, director of Brescia’s emergency services.
‘In the last few days, the number of people arriving here on their own and reporting such symptoms has increased,’ Perone said outside the civil protection tents where walk-in patients are tested and then sent to the hospital’s converted laundry room to await the results.
The onslaught of infections has completely overwhelmed the public health system in Italy’s prosperous north, prompting regional officials to beg retired doctors to come back to work and to accelerate graduation dates for nurses and specialists.
‘I ask you from my heart, we need your competency, your experience, your efficiency,’ said Giulio Gallera, Lombardy’s chief healthcare official. ‘Give us a hand.’
The 25 billion euro aid package the Italian government approved Monday, aimed at bolstering both the health care system and helping businesses, workers and families weather the economic hit, also contains provisions to hire 10,000 more medical personnel.
Already Lombardy this week has received 2,200 responses to a ‘help wanted’ sign on its Facebook page, and hired over 1,000 people, Gallera said.
Italy’s medical personnel also complain about critical shortages of gear, including protective masks and glasses.
Italy’s national federations of doctors and nurses issued a joint alarm Tuesday over the more than 2,300 medical personnel who have been infected, 1,900 of them doctors and nurses.