The human and economic toll of the lockdowns against the coronavirus mounted Thursday as India struggled to feed the multitudes, Italy shut down most of its industry, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week. The U.S. overtook China as the country with the highest number of infections.
As the number of infections worldwide reached a half-million and deaths climbed past 23,000, the damage to people's livelihoods and their well-being from the effort to flatten the rising curve started to come into focus.
In India, where the country’s 1.3 billion people were under orders to stay home, legions of poor were suddenly thrown out of work, and many families were left struggling for something to eat.
“Our first concern is food, not the virus,” said Suresh Kumar, 60, a bicycle rickshaw rider in New Delhi whose family of six relies on his daily earnings of 300 rupees, or $4. “I don’t know how I will manage.”
India has the world's second-highest number of people living in extreme poverty. Rickshaw drivers, produce peddlers, maids, day laborers and other low-wage workers form the backbone of the economy, and many live day to day on their pay and have no savings to fall back on.
The Indian government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee ($22 billion) economic stimulus package that will deliver monthly rations of grain and lentils to a staggering 800 million people.
Around the globe, the death toll rose to about 8,200 in Italy, 4,100 in Spain and 1,700 in France, including a 16-year-old. The U.S. had about 1,200 deaths, about 400 of them in New York State, the worst hotspot in the nation. Most of those victims were in New York City, where hospitals are getting swamped.
On Thursday, a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University showed the United States now had the most confirmed cases of any country, with more than 82,000. Italy and China, the latter of which was the origin of the outbreak late last year, both had more than 80,000.
Louisiana was quickly becoming another smoldering hotspot. The number of new cases there jumped by more than 500 Thursday, for a total of over 2,300, with 86 deaths, including a 17-year-old, the health department said. The higher infection numbers reflected an increase in testing. New Orleans was gearing up for a possible overflow at hospitals, with plans to treat as many as 3,000 patients at the city’s convention center.
South Africa planned to lock down at midnight. The country recorded more than 700 cases of CVOID-19, the highest on the continent.
A political battle raged in the U.S. between those demanding urgent action for a long siege against the pandemic, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and President Donald Trump.
Trump has expressed hope churches could return to normal by Easter on April 12, and grumbled that "our country wasn't built to be shut down" — apparently concerned that the outbreak's devastating effects on financial markets and employment will harm his re-election chances. Democrats say Trump is putting the economy ahead of the health and safety of Americans.
"I'd like to say, let's get back to work next Friday," said Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. "That'd be wonderful. But it can't be arbitrary."
In Brazil, the country's governors are defying President Jair Bolsonaro over his call to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the "cure" of widespread shutdowns is worse than the disease. As of Thursday, the country had more than 2,500 cases and 59 deaths.
New York has emerged as a virus hotspot. The city's mammoth convention center is being turned into a hospital. The state recorded more than 350 deaths.
Spain has become the country in Europe where the outbreak is spreading the fastest. On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported reported nearly 8,600 new infections and 655 deaths, bringing the total cases to over 56,000 and more than 4,000 fatalities — second only to Italy's death toll of about 7,500.
Health Minister Salvador Illa sought to assure Spaniards that government measures to slow the virus were working, telling Parliament that the rises had been smaller than in previous days and "indicate a changing trend that brings us to think that we are entering a phase of stabilization."
In Italy, doctors and nurses begged the government to provide more masks, gloves and goggles and urged the public to understand how important onerous social distancing measures really are. Scientists say stopping just one person from getting the virus means scores of others will not become infected down the road.
"Help us help you," Dr. Francesca De Gennaro, who heads a small medical clinic in Italy's hard-hit Bergamo region, wrote in an open letter.
The rate of increase in Italy has slowed slightly, noted Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO's European office. He said officials hope to soon figure out whether lockdown measures in numerous countries have worked.
Germany has had a high number of infections at more than 39,000 people, but just 222 deaths — which has widely been attributed to early and aggressive testing, among other factors.
On Thursday, Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's Robert Koch disease control center, said the country now has the ability to test 500,000 people a week, perhaps the greatest capacity in the world.
European Union leaders were holding their third summit in three weeks on the virus to manage the havoc it is wreaking on their 27 economies. As the number of deaths in Europe soared past 12,000, Spain extended a state of emergency that will allow it to impose broader lockdowns, while French President Emmanuel Macron launched "Operation Resilience," a military-backed response to the crisis.
France began evacuating infected citizens from the northeastern hotspot of Alsace using a special high-speed train.
Britain ordered 10,000 ventilators, working with engineers from Dyson. The government wants to increase its supply of the breathing machines from 8,000 to 30,000.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
So far, more than 115,000 people have recovered from the virus, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
China's cases have slowed, with only 67 new cases reported, all recent arrivals.
The leaders of the Group of 20 largest economies held a special video conference to better coordinate a response to the outbreak, amid criticism that the world's wealthiest countries have not taken cohesive action. The conference was chaired by Saudi Arabia's King Salman.
Long reported from Washington, Rising reported from Berlin. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.