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Global virus death toll tops 10,000 as epicenter shifts west

The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 10,000 on Thursday, as the scourge extended its march across the West, where the United States and other countries increasingly enlisted the military to prepare for an onslaught of patients and California’s governor ordered people in the most-populous U.S. state to stay home.

Worldwide the death toll surpassed 10,000 and infections topped 240,000, including 86,000 people who have recovered.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is “at war with a virus” and warned that “a global recession, perhaps of record dimensions, is a near certainty.”

“If we let the virus spread like wildfire — especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world — it would kill millions of people,” he said.

Italy, with 60 million citizens, has recorded 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China, a country with a population over 20 times larger.

Health authorities cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large population of elderly, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87% — were over 70.

Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, offered another reason for Italy’s high death rate: “That’s what happens when the health system collapses.”

In a measure of how the fortunes of East and West have shifted, New York officials were sent to China to buy more ventilators.

In the US, where deaths reached at least 205, and infections climbed past 14,000, Army officials announced plans to deploy two hospitals, probably to Seattle and New York City. Washington state had the highest death toll, 74.

US President Donald Trump said earlier this week that he would send a Navy hospital ship to the West Coast as well as one to New York City, which is rapidly becoming a US epicenter, with more than 4,000 cases.

Damage to the world’s largest economy kept increasing, with the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surging by 70,000 last week. On Wall Street, though, stocks rose modestly amid optimism over efforts by the Federal Reserve and other central banks to shore up the economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained almost 200 points, or 1%.

Congress is weighing a proposed $1 trillion emergency package that would dispense relief checks to households in as many as two rounds, the first of which would consist of payments of $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child.

‘Every US state is shopping for ventilators’

Around the country, governors and mayors sounded increasingly alarmed and took ever more drastic measures to fend off the crisis.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom late Thursday expanded to nearly 40 million people the restrictions he said already applied to about half the state. He said the statewide restriction on non-essential movement outside people’s homes is necessary to control the spread of the virus that threatens to overwhelm California’s medical system.

Newsom earlier in the day issued the dire prediction that 56 percent of California’s population could contract the virus over the next eight weeks.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the closing of all “non-life-sustaining” businesses in the state, with exceptions for gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies and takeout restaurant service, and warned that violators could be subject to fines or imprisonment.

At a video conference with Trump, governors complained they were having difficulty obtaining such things as swabs and protective gear for doctors and nurses.

And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio lashed out at the president as “the Herbert Hoover of your generation,” referring to the man who was president when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Depression set in.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state does not have enough ventilators for the expected surge of patients in need of help breathing, and needs to acquire thousands before the outbreak overwhelms hospitals.

“Every state is shopping for ventilators. We’re shopping for ventilators. We literally have people in China shopping for ventilators which is one of the largest manufacturers. So this is a major problem,” he said.

The World Health Organization warned, though, that the virus is spreading quickly in Africa, from about five countries a week and a half ago to 35 of the continent’s 54 nations — an “extremely rapid evolution,” said WHO’s Africa chief, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

Header:Medical personnel at work in the intensive care unit of the hospital of Brescia, Italy, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)