Tokyo Olympics postponed, U.S. closes in on relief package

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NEW YORK (AP) – The Tokyo Olympics were put off to next year as coronavirus deaths and infections surged in Europe and the U.S. on Tuesday, with New York warning it is about to get hit by a “bullet train.” In Washington, lawmakers closed in on a nearly $2 trillion deal to blunt the outbreak’s economic damage.

Around the globe, India, with 1.3 billion people, or one-sixth of the Earth’s population, ordered the biggest lockdown in the world. A glimmer of hope that Italy might be turning the corner faded after officials reported an increase in new cases and deaths. And Spain had so many corpses that it commandeered an ice rink to store them.

More than 400,000 people worldwide have been infected and over 18,000 have died, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

In New York City, now one of the biggest hot spots, authorities rushed to set up thousands of hospital beds for potential victims. But the number of cases is doubling every three days, threatening to swamp the city’s intensive care units in the weeks ahead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. New York State has recorded more than 200 deaths, or one-third of the U.S. total.

“One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country,” the governor said. “We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

Cuomo proposed that the country send thousands of ventilators to New York City – the metropolitan area needs 30,000 of them, he said – and demanded that President Donald Trump use wartime authority to force manufacturers to produce them.

“People said it’s a war. It is a war. Then act like it’s a war!” Cuomo said.

Trump has invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to deter hoarding but has been reluctant to use it to force companies to produce medical supplies. Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox News that 2,000 ventilators have been shipped to New York and 2,000 more will be sent on Wednesday.

The International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until the summer of 2021 at the latest, acting on the recommendation of Japan’s prime minister. That could be a heavy economic blow to Japan and could upset athletes’ training regimens, perhaps costing some of them a shot at a medal.

Still, the decision met with relief from some competitors.

“A huge decision but I think the right one for sure,” British sprinter Adam Gemili said on Twitter. “Time to regain, look after each other during this difficult period and go again when the time is right!”

In Washington, top congressional and White House officials said they expected to reach a deal during the day on a package to shore up businesses and send relief checks to ordinary Americans of $1,200 per person or $3,000 for a family of four.

Stocks rallied around the world on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surging more than 1,900 points, or 10 percent, as of late afternoon.

With Americans’ lives and livelihoods hanging in the balance, Trump said he hoped to reopen the country in less than three weeks. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said during a Fox News virtual town hall.

But with infections in the U.S. reaching nearly 50,000, including more than 600 deaths, public health experts warned that could be a mistake.

In one of the outbreak’s first celebrity deaths, Terrence McNally, the Tony-winning playwright whose credits included “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Ragtime,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class,” died in Florida of complications from the virus at age 81, his representative said. McNally was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic inflammatory lung disease.

Spain, meanwhile, registered a record one-day increase of nearly 6,600 new infections and a leap of more than 500 in the death toll to almost 2,700.

The country started storing bodies in an ice rink converted to a morgue until they could be buried or cremated. Also, army troops disinfecting nursing homes discovered elderly people living amid the corpses of suspected coronavirus victims. Prosecutors opened an investigation.

Spain’s Interior Minister said police have arrested more than 900 people for defying the government’s order to stay home.

In France, authorities said the virus had claimed 240 more victims, raising the country’s death toll to 1,100.

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 outside Madrid. “The protective suits are fundamental because without health workers we won’t be able to do anything.”

Amid the spiking numbers in Spain, relatives of elderly people and retirement-home workers were fearful.

“We live in anguish. We have no information whatsoever,” said Esther Navarro, whose 97-year-old Alzheimer’s-stricken mother is at a home in Madrid where coronavirus cases have been identified.

In Italy, a jump in the number of new deaths and cases over the last 24 hours dashed hopes fed by two days of declines. The 743 deaths reported Tuesday pushed Italy’s toll past 6,800, by far the highest of any country.

“Woe to whoever lets down the guard,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. ”Now, more than ever, the commitment of everyone is needed.”

In a distinct shift in the crisis, some 85% of new infections are coming from Europe and the United States. In fact, Chinese authorities said they would finally end the two-month lockdown in hard-hit Hubei province, where the outbreak first began.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris said cases around the world are 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,” she said.

In Britain, confusion rippled through the country on the first morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all nonessential activity.

The government 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 medicine or to exercise. But photos showed crowded trains on some London subway lines.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.”

For most people, the virus 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 100,000 people have recovered.

Elsewhere around the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decreed a “total lockdown” of the country for 21 days. India has reported about 500 cases.

“To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said.

Neighboring Pakistan ordered its railways shut down as infections climbed past 900.

The Philippine Congress approved a bill declaring a national emergency and authorizing President Rodrigo Duterte to launch a huge program and tap private hospitals and ships to help as the virus outbreak starts to take hold in the country, which reported more than 550 cases.

In contrast to other European countries, Germany offered some hope that it has flattened the exponential spread of the virus, which has infected some 30,000 people. The death toll was relatively low at about 130, and Germany has even taken in patients from France and Italy for treatment.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government approved a massive aid package to counter the economic fallout, offering more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) to tide over small companies and entrepreneurs and pump capital into bigger companies.

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Rising reported from Berlin. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

A worker with Clinical Pathology Laboratories waits for patients at a drive-through coronavirus testing site Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. UNLV Medicine, the clinical arm of the UNLV School of Medicine, started conducting COVID-19 testing by appointment for people who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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