The headlines all day have been about the United States overtaking China in the number of coronavirus cases, but on Friday Italy too confirmed it has gone way past the Chinese figure of 86,498 infections, after a day in which an almost unimaginable 919 people died.
When will this end?
Spain is also fast catching up with almost 800 more confirmed to have died on Friday. Amid it all the European Union is risking very serious divisions between north and south over how the crisis, and the recovery they hope will follow, are to be paid for.
We have become horribly used to hearing about hundreds dead in a single day in Italy. On Friday it was close to a thousand. Of those 541 are in the northern region of Lombardy alone.
Across the country there have been 5,909 new infections in the last 24 hours, a figure slightly down on Thursday. The hope, however, was that the lockdown would have – by now – resulted in many fewer new cases.
To add to the gloom the head of Italy’s National Health Council says the peak may not yet have been reached, and it is inevitable that the nationwide lockdown will be extended beyond April 3.
Forty-five Italians doctors are among the dead.
There was terrible day in Spain with 769 new deaths recorded. The only glimmer of good news is that the number of new infections is climbing slightly more slowly than yesterday – up 18% rather than 20% in the previous 24 hours.
But already they are accepting that the state of emergency there will be extended beyond April 12. An astonishing 9,444 medical staff have now been infected in Spain, 15% of the total cases.
A major row is brewing there about their state of preparedness and the availability of protective equipment.
It looks as if the country may win an unexpected benefit from the influx of more than million refugees back in 2015. In Saxony, ironically a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Deutschland, an appeal has gone out for anyone with medical training but who doesn’t yet have a licence to practice to help out.
More than 300 foreign doctors have so far responded. The country is leading the way on testing. Last week 190,000 tests were carried out, expecting to rise to half a million in a week. In the UK the figure is around 5-6,000 tests a day.
There is an expectation of an “extremely high wave” of new infections in France, according to Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. The epicentre of the crisis has so far been in eastern France near the border with Germany and Switzerland, but it is now moving rapidly to Paris.
EU leaders met for five and a half hours by video conference on Thursday but nothing good came of it.
A real divide is developing between north and south, with countries like France, Italy and Spain demanding so-called ‘corona bonds’. These would be a way for Governments to borrow money that is backed by the whole Eurozone, rather than just their own Treasuries, money they are going to need desperately to recover from the financial effects of this crisis.
Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are point blank refusing to agree to mutualised debt instruments, a rerun of the same debate about Eurobonds during the Euro crisis. In response Italy refused to sign off on the summit’s conclusions, and the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonia Costa lambasted the Dutch Finance Minister for suggesting the problems in Spain were in part of their own making. “Repulsive, senseless and totally unacceptable” he said.
The leaders have gone away to think about things for two weeks. This has the potential to get very bitter indeed.
The country has at least now got one fewer problem on its plate with Turkey removing 1,500 refugees who were camped on the border waiting to cross in Greece. The fresh refugee crisis that was in the headlines a month ago is going to have to wait for another day.