Italy overtook China as the country with the highest recorded death toll from the coronavirus on Thursday, with the pandemic gathering pace in Spain and France as European governments struggle to keep up in their responses to tackle the spread of the disease.
The number of Italian fatalities reached 3,405, civil protection officials said. Hospitals are overwhelmed and the country has been under a nationwide lockdown since earlier this month in a bid to halt the spread.
Ministers and policymakers across the continent again ramped up their efforts to counter the outbreak and mitigate the devastating effects on societies and economies with millions of people forced to stay home.
The U.K. and Greece were among those announcing new financial action while France urged workers to maintain food supplies. Leaders made it more apparent they don’t expect the fight against Covid-19 to end soon even as new cases have slowed to a trickle in China, the original epicenter.
Despite the impact of containment measures on the economy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday that he will extend the lockdown beyond its original March 25 deadline. Schools, which had been scheduled to reopen April 3, will stay closed longer than originally planned. The 41,035 total Italian cases of the virus so far include 4,440 who have recovered from the illness.
The death toll, though, rose more rapidly elsewhere. In Spain, the number shot up 28% to 767, while France reported a 41% increase to 372. French President Emmanuel Macron said it was unclear how many virus waves the world could be facing, and that efforts to arrest the outbreak will likely be implemented again in future.
In the meantime, he urged people to strike a balance between staying home and keeping the country running as the coronavirus rips into one of Europe’s biggest economies. France is facing a shortage of personnel in some areas as employees wary of contracting the disease steer clear of their workplaces.
Part of the population was “irresponsible” to not be taking into account guidelines on confinement by “partying on the streets” and “going to the beach,” he said. Others, though, are over-reacting to the message of staying indoors, with some key workers not going to work. “We need to find a median path,” Macron told reporters as he visited researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris on Thursday.
On the French Riviera, the Cannes film festival became the latest event to be postponed. The gathering was slated to run May 12-23.
Turning the Tide
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the aim was to bring the virus under control by June. After another dramatic intervention from the Bank of England, he said he was optimistic that collective action and scientific breakthroughs will win the battle.
“We can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks, and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country,” he told reporters in London on Thursday. “But only if we take the steps that we have outlined.”
Johnson promised new efforts to protect businesses and workers will be announced on Friday. The number of deaths increased to 144 in Britain, more than doubling over the past two days.
Friday will also see schools across the U.K. close, with no guarantee they will reopen before the summer and examinations were canceled. The English Premier League, Europe’s richest soccer competition, will remain postponed until at least the end of next month.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa outlined the rules that will be in place following a declaration of a state of emergency. Businesses that don’t involve interaction with the public should continue operating normally, while bakeries, supermarkets and gas stations will also remain open.
While people who aren’t infected still have a “duty” to stay at home, there’s a “vast range of exceptions,” he said. They include professional activities and accompanying children for short periods of outdoor recreation, Costa said.