WHO: US could become global epicenter of COVID-19

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the US, and of those, 40 percent were in the US.

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, as governments around the world tightened lockdowns in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease.

In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the US.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the US, and of those, 40 percent were in the US.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked if the US could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential.”

Some local US officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that it has put localities, acting on their own, in competition for supplies.

India, meanwhile, will begin the world’s largest lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a TV address last night, warning that anyone going outside risked inviting the coronavirus inside their homes, and pledging US$2 billion to bolster the country’s beleaguered health-care system.

“To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said, adding if the country failed to manage the next 21 days, it could be set back by 21 years.

India’s stay-at-home order puts nearly one-fifth of the world’s population under lockdown.

Indian health officials have reported 469 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 10 deaths.

Elsewhere in Asia, Thailand’s government on Tuesday approved a one-month state of emergency allowing it to impose stricter measures to control the virus.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his cabinet decided that the state of emergency will take effect from tomorrow.

The move gives the government additional powers to implement curfews, disperse gatherings and deploy the military for enforcement.

The Philippine Congress also approved a bill declaring a national emergency and authorizing President Rodrigo Duterte to launch a massive aid program and tap private hospitals and ships to help as the outbreak starts to take hold in the Pacific nation, with over 550 cases.

Egypt is to impose a nighttime curfew for two weeks from Wednesday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli announced.

“Movement will be banned on all public roads from 7pm to 6am... for two weeks,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.

“All mass transport, public and private, will be halted over the same period,” Madbouli added.

Penalties for violators include a fine of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (US$250) and even jail.

Britain became the latest European country to go into effective lockdown to deal with the pandemic, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday sweeping curbs on everyday activity, including the banning of any gatherings of more than two people who do not live together.

Under the measures which Johnson did not term as a lockdown, people will only be allowed to leave home for a few “very limited purposes” to relieve the pressure on the National Health Service, Johnson said.

These include shopping for basic necessities “as infrequently as possible,” one form of exercise a day done alone or with household members, medical reasons or traveling to work that cannot be done from home or that is “absolutely necessary.”

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