Half-million infected worldwide as economic toll rises

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A woman walks through a terminal at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, March 26, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

NEW YORK – 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. surpassed official Chinese government numbers to become the country with most reported infections.

As the number of cases worldwide topped a half-million and deaths climbed past 24,000, 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, with produce peddlers, maids and other low-wage workers living day to day. The government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee ($22 billion) economic stimulus package to deliver monthly rations of grain and lentils to 800 million people.

Around the globe, the death toll rose to about 8,200 in Italy, 4,300 in Spain and 1,700 in France, including a 16-year-old. The U.S. had about 1,300 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.

A running count kept by Johns Hopkins University showed the United States now had the most reported cases of any country Thursday, with more than 85,000. Italy and China, the latter of which was the origin of the outbreak late last year, both had reported 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.