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US cases now most in world, China recovering

Members of the Protection Civile with protective mask Vincent Jactel, left, and Aurore Lejeune, right, escort a pregnant 27 year old woman suspected of having the coronavirus infection to an ambulance in Paris, Thursday, March 26, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

TORONTO (AP) — The United States’ caseload of coronavirus infections surged to the most in the world and its capital reported more infections, as Italy shut most of its industry and masses of Indian day laborers received food rations after a lockdown put them out of work.

Increases in the number of cases have been expected as testing becomes more available. The U.S. passed China with more than 85,000 cases, and Italy also exceeded 80,000, the three countries together accounting for almost half of the world’s infections from the new virus.

Most of China’s patients have recovered, while places where the virus arrived later are now dealing with overwhelmed hospitals and supply shortages and are rushing to convert public spaces for treating the sick.

Washington, D.C., confirmed 36 new cases Thursday, raising its total to 267. The district is under a state of emergency, its major attractions like the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo closed and White House and Capitol tours cancelled. Police have blocked off streets, bridges and traffic circles to prevent crowds coming to see Washington’s blooming cherry blossom trees.

The stay-home order for India’s 1.3 billion people threw out of work the backbone of the nation’s economy — rickshaw drivers, fruit peddlers, cleaners and others who buy food from whatever they can earn in a day. The government announced a $22 billion stimulus to deliver monthly rations to 800 million people.

In some parts of India, people got rice rations or bank deposits from local authorities, and aid groups were working to expand their reach. The nation’s vital and massive train system was also halted, and jobless workers are now attempting to walk hundreds of miles to their home villages from India’s major cities.

Deaths from COVID-19 have surpassed 24,000, more than a third of them in Italy, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. The U.S. had about 1,300 deaths, almost a quarter of them in New York City, where hospitals are overwhelmed.

In China, where the virus was first believed to have jumped from wild animals to humans, the National Health Commission today reported 55 new cases, including 54 it said were imported infections in recent arrivals from overseas. Once again, there were no new cases reported in Wuhan, the provincial capital where the coronavirus emerged in December. China is barring most foreigners from entering as it tries to curb imported cases.

The economic damage of the pandemic was growing. Italy shut down most of its industry, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week.

Companies in Europe are laying off workers at the fastest pace since 2009, according to surveys of business managers. And the U.S. is bleeding jobs as well: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week was nearly five times the old record, set in 1982.

Wall Street rallied for the third straight day after an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help businesses, hospitals and ordinary Americans pull through the crisis won passage in the Senate. The rescue plan, which is expected to be voted on in the House today, would dispense checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

Elsewhere around the world, South Africa, with the most industrialized economy in Africa, began a three-week lockdown today. The country is already in recession, with an unemployment rate of 29%.

And Britain unveiled another relief effort, this time aimed at the gig economy, many of whose workers are facing financial ruin. The government will give the self-employed grants equal to 80% of their average profits, up to 2,500 pounds ($2,975) per month.

The outbreak has put huge pressure on foreign students, especially those at universities in North America and Europe.

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