South Africa’s police service said it had arrested four of its members for allegedly taking part in illegal liquor trade, undermining a lockdown ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
Several shuttered liquor outlets have been looted since President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a nation-wide lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Police minister Bheki Cele on Sunday said there had been at 16 reports of raids on liquor stores in South Africa’s Western Cape province, home to the southern city of Cape Town, since the lockdown started on March 27.
Cele also “noted with concern the alleged involvement of police members in some of the liquor related crimes”.
Two warrant officers were arrested on Thursday after police received a tip-off and “pounced on the suspects inside the store”, Cele said in a statement.
They were caught “buying liquor that was allegedly going to be resold illegally elsewhere,” he added.
Another two members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) were arrested in northern Mpumalanga province on Friday for using state vehicles to escort three pick-up trucks loaded with alcohol.
France said on Wednesday it would extend a lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus as the death toll soared across Europe and the US — and experts warned the looming global recession could be the worst in decades.
Governments are grappling with how to balance public safety against the devastating economic impact of stay-at-home orders that have erased millions of jobs in a matter of weeks.
More than 80,000 people worldwide have died in the virus crisis, which has sent the global economy spiralling and forced billions of people to remain at home as much as possible.
As the economic downturn starts to bite, health experts stressed that any premature loosening of restrictions could accelerate the spread of a contagion that has already infiltrated nearly every country.
In France, one of the hardest-hit nations in Europe with more than 10,000 deaths, President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation next week to explain the path forward.
The confinement order issued on March 17 “will be extended” beyond the current deadline of April 15, an official close to Macron told AFP.
Italy and Spain are still recording hundreds of deaths a day, though the situation is also deteriorating in Britain, which saw a record 938 fatalities Wednesday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a third day in intensive care.
The 55-year-old leader’s condition is “improving” and he is in “good spirits”, officials assured the public.
In New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, the state’s governor noted the new single-day high for virus deaths at 779, but offered an optimistic view for the weeks to come.
“We are flattening the curve,” Andrew Cuomo told reporters, as he cited a decreasing hospitalisation rate due to stay-at-home orders.
In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus first emerged in December, there was cause for celebration as a ban on outbound travel was lifted.
Malta meanwhile joined the ranks of those in mourning, recording its first death — a 92-year-old woman with underlying conditions.
Global trade to plummet
The head of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, issued a dire warning, saying the economic fallout from the health emergency could be “the deepest economic recession or downturn of our lifetimes”.
Global trade growth could plunge by up to a third this year, according to the WTO.
Germany and France, the EU’s two largest economies, are bracing for a painful hit.
Gross domestic product in export powerhouse Germany is expected to shrink by nearly 10 percent in the second quarter, the country’s leading research institutes said.
France meanwhile is already in a technical recession, the Bank of France said. Its first-quarter performance was its worst since 1945.
But officials at the US Federal Reserve said the wide-ranging shuttering of businesses should not have the lasting impact that was seen in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008.
As some European countries weighed easing lockdown measures to allow economic activity to resume in earnest, the World Health Organization urged against it.
“Now is not the time to relax measures,” said WHO’s Europe director Hans Kluge.
“It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive towards suppression with the whole support of society.”
Stages of grief
Around the world, medical staff are bearing a heavy physical and emotional toll as they work in overflowing intensive care units and makeshift hospitals erected in sports stadiums, on ships and even in a New York cathedral.
In Spain, home to the world’s second deadliest outbreak, another 757 deaths were reported Wednesday, bringing the toll up for a second day after several days of decline.
Antonio Alvarez, a 33-year-old nurse at a Barcelona hospital, described his experience as akin to bereavement.
“I’ve had my phases of anger, of denial, you go through all of them,” he told AFP. “Now we are still a little overwhelmed but it is better. Fewer patients are dying.”
In Italy, police have started to tighten lockdown controls as cabin fever and a slowing of the death toll tempted residents out in increasing numbers.
“The only weapon we have is social distancing, respect for the rules,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
Meanwhile, many Jews around the world marked the start of Passover without the large family gatherings normally organised for the seder meal, with some turning to virtual platforms.
“The Passover holiday is celebrated with friends and families,” Yigel Niasoff, 45, told AFP from his balcony in New York’s Crown Heights neighbourhood.
“Right now with the pandemic, it’s a very, very sad time.”
Governments worldwide are rolling out staggering stimulus measures to ease the economic pain.
In Washington, Democrats demanded an additional $500 billion to battle the crisis, doubling the government’s request to help small businesses and imperilling the rapid approval of emergency aid lawmakers sought this week.
The eurozone is also mired in bickering over a bailout plan for its hard-hit members that would come on top of measures enacted by individual governments.
Finance ministers were unable to bridge divides after 16 hours of talks that will resume Thursday.
The markets continued their volatile movement, with the Dow closing up 3.4 percent in New York after European stocks faltered.
For the world’s poor, survival is already a struggle.
“Since this crisis started, we’ve been sitting at home and there’s no money coming in,” said Mohamed Said, a 36-year-old carpenter and father-of-three queueing for food packages in Cairo.
“We don’t know how to feed our kids… and if, God forbid, something happens to any of them, I won’t be able to foot a hospital bill.”
A Kashmiri villager faked his death and travelled more than a hundred miles in an ambulance with four others in a desperate bid to circumvent India’s virus lockdown and return home, police said Wednesday.
Hakim Din was being treated for a minor head injury at a hospital in Jammu when an ambulance driver suggested the 70-year-old fake his death to get past checkpoints, police said.
Din and three other men wanted to return to Poonch, a far-flung region in Indian-administered Kashmir close to the de facto border with Pakistan.
The region’s Superintendent of Police, Ramesh Angral, said the four men and the driver travelled more than 160 kilometres (100 miles) in the ambulance, passing many checkpoints using a fake death certificate from the hospital.
“The ambulance was stopped at the last checkpoint before they could reach home,” Angral told AFP.
“A policeman there immediately figured out that the man lying covered inside the ambulance could not be dead.”
Lockdowns aimed at halting the march of the coronavirus pandemic have extended worldwide as the global death toll mounts and the US outbreak continues to accelerate.
Despite slivers of hope in stricken Italy, tough measures that have confined two-fifths of the globe’s population to their homes are being broadened.
Moscow and Lagos joined the roll call of cities around the world with empty streets, while Virginia and Maryland became the latest US states to announce stay-at-home orders, followed quickly by Washington DC, leaving three-quarters of Americans under some form of lockdown.
A US military medical ship steamed into New York, where it will relieve pressure on the city’s badly stretched health system. A field hospital set up in Central Park was due to go online later Tuesday.
The scale and speed of the US pandemic continued to expand, with the death toll topping 3,000 out of 163,000 known infections — the highest case count for any country.
President Donald Trump sought to reassure Americans that authorities were ramping up distribution of desperately needed equipment such as ventilators and personal protective gear.
But he also offered a stark warning, saying “challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days” as he acknowledged a potential nationwide stay-at-home order.
“We’re sort of putting it all on the line,” Trump said, likening the efforts against coronavirus to a “war.”
– ‘I cried getting ready’ –
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world is now above three-quarters of a million, with around 37,000 deaths.
The toll on health systems is staggering, with medical professionals under enormous strain.
“Waking up this morning I cried. I cried eating breakfast. I cried getting ready,” French nurse Elise Cordier confessed on Facebook in a post that revealed the fear and anguish of those on the front line.
But, she said, once in “the hospital locker room, I dried my tears. I breathed in. I breathed out. The people in the hospital beds are crying too, and it is I who am there to dry their tears.”
World leaders — several of whom have been stricken or forced into isolation — are still grappling for ways to deal with a crisis that is generating economic and social shockwaves unseen since World War II.
The shutdown has already put millions out of work and forced governments to rush through huge stimulus plans.
Experts in Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, said the virus would shrink output there this year by up to 5.4 percent.
The World Bank warned Monday the economic fallout from the pandemic could cause Chinese growth to shudder to a halt and thrust millions of East Asians into poverty.
– ‘Work continues’ –
After weeks of a national lockdown in Italy, signs were emerging that drastic action could be slowing the spread of the disease.
Even though the country’s death toll grew by 812 in 24 hours to 11,591, the number of infections climbed just 4.1 percent.
“The data are better but our work continues,” said Giulio Gallera, the chief medical officer of Lombardy, Italy’s worst-hit region.
Italy was due to observe a minute’s silence later Tuesday for victims of the disease.
Spain announced another 812 virus deaths in 24 hours, taking it past China, where the disease first emerged in December.
Even with the US health system stretched, Trump said he was ordering some excess medical equipment be sent to Italy, France and Spain.
– ‘Nothing to eat’ –
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed “closer cooperation” and addressed plunging oil prices in a Monday call, the Kremlin said.
Putin’s government was getting to grips with its own outbreak, with the Russian strongman urging residents of Moscow to respect a lockdown that has closed all non-essential shops, and left Red Square deserted.
Anna, a 36-year-old web designer, said the lockdown would be hard for her and her five-year-old daughter. “But I don’t want Arina to get sick,” she told AFP on her way to buy bread. “So of course we will observe the quarantine.”
The lockdowns are causing hardship across the world but particularly in impoverished cities in Africa and Asia.
Africa’s biggest city, Lagos, joined the global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown for its 20 million people. The measures also apply to the capital Abuja.
“Two weeks is too long. I don’t know how we will cope,” said student Abdul Rahim, 25, as he helped his sister sell food from a market stall.
Impoverished Zimbabwe also began enforcing a three-week lockdown.
“They need to be fed, but there is nothing to eat,” vegetable vendor Irene Ruwisi said in the township of Mbare, pointing at her four grandchildren. “How do they expect us to survive?”
Addressing reporters on the lockdown order, Enenche said, “The Armed Forces of Nigeria is to implement all restriction on movement, in line with the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this includes the presidential directive given by the President, Commander-In-Chief, during his address to the nation on the COVID 19 pandemic, on 29 March 2020.”
The major general stressed the need for members of the public to adhere to the order aimed at curtailing the spread of coronavirus.
He outlined the efforts of the military to assist in the fight against COVID-19, adding that the only military officer who contracted the virus was already recovering at the isolation centre located at University of Abuja Teaching Hospital in Gwagwalada.
According to Enenche, a committee headed by the Chief of Defence Training and Operations is in place interfacing with all relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the government managing the situation.
He noted that a number of Armed Forces of Nigerian medical personnel have been earmarked to be trained on the management of COVID 19 cases, in liaison with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“In the same vein, about 48 Disaster Response Units of the Armed Forces of Nigeria are on Notice To Move in conjunction with NEMA.
“These units will handle operations other than medicals that may arise in the course of this non-kinetic military operation,” the military spokesman explained.
He added, “The High Command of Nigerian Military hereby solicits for the support of the general public in this trying period of the fight against COVID-19.
“This can be achieved by adhering to all the medical and administrative guidelines being provided by government at all levels.”
Enenche also disclosed that 17 isolation and treatment centres have been earmarked across the six geopolitical zones of the country.
They are 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Yaba and 2 Division Hospital, Ibadan in the South West, as well as the Military Hospital, Port Harcourt; Navy Reference Hospital, Calabar and Military Hospital, Benin in the South South.
Others include 211 Regiment Group Medical Centre, Owerri and 82 Division Military Hospital, Enugu in the South East, and 161 Nigerian Air Force Hospital, Makurdi and 22 Brigade Medical Centre, Ilorin in the North Central.
The rest are 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Kaduna; 465 Nigerian Air Force Hospital, Kano; 263 Nigerian Air Force Reference Hospital, Daura and 119 Composite Group Medical Centre, Sokoto in the North West, as well as 261 Nigerian Air Force Reference Hospital, Bauchi; 163 Nigerian Air Force Hospital, Yola; 7 Division Military Hospital, Maiduguri and 27 Task Force Brigade Field Ambulance, Damaturu in the North East.
Almost one billion people were confined to their homes worldwide on Saturday as the global coronavirus death toll topped 12,000 and US states rolled out stay-at-home measures already imposed across swathes of Europe.
More than a third of Americans were adjusting to life in various phases of virtual lockdown — including in the US’s three biggest cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — with more states expected to ramp up restrictions.
New Jersey became the latest US state to restrict movement as the fast-spreading pandemic upends lives across the planet, closing businesses, shutting schools and forcing millions to work from home.
“This is a time of shared national sacrifice, but also a time to treasure our loved ones,” US President Donald Trump told a press conference. “We’re going to have a great victory.”
The virus death toll surpassed 12,000 worldwide as worst-hit Italy reported a one-day record number of deaths at 793 — the overall total shot past 4,800 — and Spain reported a 32 percent spike in new deaths.
The nearly one billion people are now confined to their homes in 35 countries around the world — including 600 million hemmed in by obligatory government lockdown orders — according to an AFP tally.
In France, police officials said helicopters and drones were being deployed to boost the government’s attempts to keep people in their homes.
“The helicopters will give us a larger vision and a panoramic view of the situation in real-time to help guide the patrols on the ground,” a national police source said.
The measures came as pressure mounted on Olympic organizers to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games — and as the US Congress thrashes out an emergency economic package that could top $1 trillion.
‘Months, not weeks’
With virus fears gripping the world’s number one economy, New Jersey followed several other states, including California, New York and Illinois, in telling residents to stay indoors.
Governor Phil Murphy ordered all non-essential businesses to close their physical stores from 9:00 PM (0100 GMT Sunday).
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned Saturday that the disruption is likely to last for months.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks,” he said.
China on Saturday reported no new local infections for a third straight day, and the WHO said the central city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged late last year, offered a glimmer of “hope for the rest of the world.”
But there are growing concerns of a new wave of “imported” infections in the region, with Hong Kong reporting 48 suspected cases on Friday –- its biggest daily jump since the crisis began.
Italy, a nation of 60 million now accounts for 36 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths and its death rate of 8.6 percent among confirmed infections is significantly higher than in most other countries.
France, Italy, Spain and other European countries have ordered people to stay at home, threatening fines in some cases, while Bavaria became the first region in Germany to order a lockdown.
Britain also announced tougher restrictions, telling pubs, restaurants and theaters to close.
While the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the hardest hit by the virus, the World Health Organization has warned that young people are also vulnerable.
Australia’s famed Bondi beach and Rio de Janeiro’s beaches were ordered shut.
A restriction on non-essential travel over the US borders with Canada and Mexico was due to come into force Saturday.
And US lawmakers expressed hope of striking an agreement on a $1 trillion emergency aid package, amid fears of widespread economic fallout because of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence said he and his wife would be tested for the coronavirus after one of his office staff contracted the illness.
And America’s Food and Drug Administration also approved the first coronavirus test that can be conducted entirely at the point of care for a patient — and deliver results in 45 minutes.
In sport, the USA Track and Field became the latest influential sports body to ask for the Summer Olympics to be called off.
“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety,” chief Max Siegel said in a letter to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
The strict confinement measures follow the template set by China, as a lockdown imposed in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, appeared to have paid off.
Europe now accounts for more than half of the world’s fatalities linked to COVID-19.
Accurate figures are difficult to come by, however, as many of those who die suffer from other illnesses, and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.
The shadow of the virus is lengthening across Africa and the Middle East as well.
Cases stand at more than 1,000 across Africa, where health care systems are fragile and social distancing is not possible in many crowded cities.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Finland, Lithuania and Mauritius all reported their first virus deaths Saturday.
In Iran, which reported 123 new deaths Saturday, both supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised the country would overcome the outbreak — but still refused to join the rest of the world in imposing heavy restrictions.
The country has more than 1,500 deaths and some 20,000 infections.
In Latin America, Bolivia ordered citizens to stay at home from Sunday, and Colombia said it would begin mandatory isolation from Tuesday.