A third of humanity under virus lockdown

The medical situation is still critical in Europe, where hardest-hit Italy had mixed news

India's billion-plus population went into a three-week lockdown on Wednesday, with a third of the world now under orders to stay indoors, as US politicians agreed to spend $2trn to counter the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Financial markets soared as the Senate and the White House thrashed out a stimulus package worth roughly 10% of the entire US economy, an injection Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said represented a "wartime level of investment". President Donald Trump has voiced hope that the United States will be "raring to go" by mid-April, but his optimism appeared to stand almost alone among world leaders, who were ratcheting up the movement restrictions in a bid to stifle the spread of the disease.

India ordered its 1.3 billion people - the world's second-biggest population - to stay at home for three weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "total lockdown" call doubled the number of people around the globe under some form of movement restriction to more than 2.6 billion people.

"To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown," Modi said in a televised address.

Iran's president warned that mandatory movement restrictions could be introduced as soon as Wednesday evening in the country, which has seen one of the world's highest death tolls from the pandemic so far.

And in the US alone, nearly 130 million Americans, or 40% of the population, are under or will soon come under some lockdown order, including in the largest state of California.

However, China, where the new virus emerged last year, loosened tough rules on the 50 million people in Hubei province on Wednesday after a months-long lockdown as the country reported no new domestic cases. The provincial capital Wuhan - the ground zero of the outbreak after it was initially detected at a market that sold wild animals for human consumption - will allow residents to leave from 8 April.

But across the planet, the grim COVID-19 toll mounted further, with more than 18,200 deaths and 405,000 declared infections, half of them in Europe, according to an AFP tally.  The Mediterranean country's death toll shot back up to 743 after two days of slight decline from a world-record peak of 793 on Saturday. But officially registered new infections rose just 8% for the second straight day. Elsewhere Ireland ordered non-essential businesses shut, Britain planned a 4,000-bed emergency hospital in London and Spain called for practical support from the NATO military alliance.

The pandemic has cut a swathe through the world's sporting and cultural events, and on Tuesday claimed the biggest of them all: the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to sound an optimistic note, vowing that the rescheduled Games in 2021 would be "a testament to mankind's defeat of the new virus". The postponement marks the first time that the world's biggest sporting event, set to open on 24 July, has been delayed in peacetime.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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