MADRID, March 24: The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday postponed this summer’s Tokyo Games for a year as coronavirus deaths mounted around the world and U.S. lawmakers closed in on a nearly $2 trillion deal to help cushion the economic damage from the crisis.
The IOC acted on the recommendation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, adding the Olympics to a long roster of sports events canceled because of the deadly outbreak.
In Washington, top congressional and White House officials said they expected to reach a deal Tuesday on a measure to shore up businesses and send relief checks to ordinary Americans. Ahead of the resumption of talks, U.S. stock futures rose sharply.
President Donald Trump urged swift action, tweeting: “Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy.”
Meanwhile, Spain started storing bodies in an ice rink converted to a morgue, and the World Health Organization warned that infections around the globe are expected to increase “considerably.”
Some 85% of new infections came from Europe and the United States, according to the WHO, with Spain registering a record daily increase of 6,584 new infections and a leap of 500 in the death toll to 2,696.
In Madrid, vans driven by workers in protective suits and masks brought bodies to the Palacio de Hielo — Ice Palace — mall to store at its indoor skating rink until they can be buried or cremated after other facilities became overwhelmed.
The Spanish capital last week adapted two hotels to serve as emergency hospitals to help with the overflow of COVID-19 patients. It plans to convert five more. The city has also set up a field hospital.
As health care workers worked around the clock, they also struggled with scarce supplies.
“All over the country, you see examples of workers inventing homemade suits using plastics,” said Olga Mediano, a lung specialist at a hospital in Guadalajara, a city east of Madrid. “The protective suits are fundamental because without health workers we won’t be able to do anything.”
More than 387,000 people worldwide have been infected by the new coronavirus and more than 16,700 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. But for some older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. More than 101,000 people have recovered, including more than 60,000 in China.
In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris cited a “glimmer of hope” in hard-hit Italy after two days of slight declines in the number of new cases and deaths, while cautioning it’s “early days yet” — and the trend needed to be monitored.
In another positive sign, Chinese authorities said they would finally end a two-month lockdown in hard-hit Hubei province where the coronavirus outbreak first began.
Still, Harris said the scope of the global outbreak was “enormous” and that cases were expected to increase “considerably.”
“Just to put it in proportion: It took two years in the worst Ebola outbreak we ever had, the West African outbreak, to reach 11,000 deaths,” Harris said.
There have been more than 46,000 infections and 530 deaths in the U.S. as the virus continues to spread.
In New York, now one of the world’s biggest virus hot spots, authorities rushed to set up the thousands of hospital beds they will need in just weeks to protect the city’s 8.4 million people.
In Italy, Spain and France, the pandemic has already pushed national health systems to their breaking points.
The outbreak has killed more than 6,000 Italians, the highest death toll of any country. Officials said Monday the virus had claimed just over 600 more lives, down from 793 two days earlier.
Amid the spiking numbers in Spain, relatives of elderly people and retirement homes’ workers are expressing growing concern about the situation in retirement homes across Spain, especially in Madrid.
“We live in anguish, we have no information whatsoever,” said Esther Navarro, whose 97-year-old mother with Alzheimer is at the Residencia Usera in Madrid where some of the cases have been identified.
Spanish prosecutors are launching a judicial probe after Spanish army troops disinfecting elderly nursing homes discovered elderly people living among death bodies of those who had allegedly contracted the new coronavirus.
Confusion rippled through Britain on the first morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all nonessential activity. The government has told most stores to close, banned gatherings of three or more people and said everyone apart from essential workers should leave home only to buy food and medicines or to exercise. But photos showed crowded trains Tuesday on some London subway lines.
“I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted. “Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.”
The Philippine Congress 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 virus outbreak starts to take hold in the Pacific nation, which has reported 552 cases.
Pakistan ordered its railways shutdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus as cases climbed to 903. Bangladesh, with only 39 infections, also shut down all passenger rail as a precaution and suspended all domestic flights.
In contrast to other European nations, German health authorities offered some hope that the country has flattened the exponential spread of the virus, which has already infected some 30,000.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government approved a massive new aid package to cushion the economic fallout of the outbreak, offering more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) to tide over small companies and entrepreneurs and pump capital into bigger companies.
The death rate in Germany has been low, with 130 recorded so far, and Germany has taken in patients from France and Italy for treatment.