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US death toll closes in on Italy’s as Midwest braces


CHICAGO (AP) — The US moved closer to overtaking Italy for the highest death toll in the world from the coronavirus Saturday, as Chicago and other cities across the Midwest braced for a potential surge in victims and moved to snuff out smouldering hot spots of contagion before they erupt.

With the New York metropolitan still deep in crisis, fear mounted over the spread of the virus into the nation’s heartland. Twenty-four residents of an Indiana nursing home hit by COVID-19 have died. Chicago’s Cook County has set up a temporary morgue that can take more than 2,000 bodies. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been going around telling groups of people to “break it up”.

Around the world, meanwhile, European countries used roadblocks, drones, helicopters, mounted patrols and the threat of fines to keep people from travelling over Easter weekend.

And with infections levelling off in Italy, Spain and other places on the continent, governments took tentative steps toward loosening the weeks-long shutdowns of much of public life.

Glorious weather across Europe posed an extra test of people’s discipline.

“Don’t do silly things,” said Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s special commissioner for the virus emergency. “Don’t go out; continue to behave responsibly as you have done until today. Use your head and your sense of responsibility.”

Italian authorities set up roadblocks on main thoroughfares in and out of Milan and along highway exits to discourage people from going on holiday trips. British police kept a close watch on gatherings in parks and at the seaside on what was set to be the hottest day of the year. France deployed some 160,000 police, including officers on horseback, who patrolled beaches and parks.

“It’s useless to pack your bags for a vacation,” the Paris police headquarters tweeted.

The pandemic’s centre of gravity has long since shifted from China to Europe and the United States, which now has by far the largest number of confirmed cases, with more than half a million.

As of midday Saturday, the US death toll reached over 18,850, while Italy reported that the number of dead there had climbed to nearly 19,500.

Over the past week the number of new deaths each day has been about three times higher, on average, in the US than in Italy. Deaths have risen more than 9,000 for the week in the US compared with fewer than 3,000 in Italy.

About half the deaths in the United States were in the New York metropolitan area, where hospitalisations were nevertheless slowing down and other indicators suggested social distancing is “flattening the curve” of infections.

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