People walk upon arrival at the Malpensa airport of Milan, Italy, March 22, 2020.
A moment of a funeral service without relatives in the cemetery of Zogno, near Bergamo, Northern Italy, March 21, 2020.

Europe has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, with the hardest hit nation, Italy reporting hundreds of new deaths on Sunday.

The total number of deaths in the country has now surpassed 5,400.

All nonessential businesses in hard-hit Italy have been ordered to close as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.  

“It is the most difficult crisis in our postwar period,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

A view of an empty street, in Rome, March 21, 2020. Mayors of many towns in Italy are asking for ever more stringent measures on citizens' movements to help contain the surging infections of the coronavirus.

There are 53,578 confirmed cases of the virus in Italy, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  

Cuba has deployed a group of doctors and nurses to help Italy combat the virus.

The European Union Commission has reassured Italy that the country’s debt will not keep it from borrowing money to deal with the virus. In an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said, “What we all understand is that no member state can face this threat alone.  The virus has no borders and the European Union is stronger when we show full solidarity.”

Spain, the second-worst hit country in the EU, is bracing as it anticipates the impact from the virus.  “The worst is yet to come,” the government said Saturday.  

Spanish officials have warned that the situation could soon overcome the country’s health care system.

Beds are prepared for coronavirus patients at a military hospital set up at the IFEMA conference centre in Madrid, Spain, March 21, 2020.

Spain began a 15-day state of emergency more than a week ago, allowing only essential outings.   

Spain has 25,496 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins. Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo confirmed Sunday that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Germany, another hard-hit country with more than 22,000 cases, is trying to increase the number of intensive care beds, which now total 28,000, by establishing temporary hospitals in hotels, rehabilitation clinics and other facilities.

Britain and Australia have both shut down dining establishments, bars and other leisure businesses in its efforts to bring a halt to the virus.

Elsewhere in the world

In Africa, cases have emerged in Angola, Eritrea, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the country’s residents to self-isolate Sunday and millions complied, rendering India’s usually jam-packed thoroughfares nearly empty.  

Modi asked for the 14-hour lockdown to give workers a chance to sanitize public spaces.  

Malaysia has called in the army to help police enforce a two-week travel ban.   

Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Sunday there was “90% compliance, but 10% is not a small number.”

Gaza reported its first two virus cases Saturday.  Officials say the two are in quarantine. 

Situation in the US

Millions of Americans are under orders from their state and local governments to stay home, venturing out only for essential needs, including trips to pharmacies, supermarkets, and gas stations, and for solo exercise.

A woman is biking past the National Gallery of Art in a usually busy part for tourists in Washington DC. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)

U.S. lawmakers are attempting to create legislation that could deliver direct payments to workers and businesses affected by the crisis.    

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency authorization to Cepheid, a U.S. company, to use its rapid coronavirus tests.

The tests, which produce results in 45 minutes, initially will be made available to hospital and emergency rooms, and then to “patient care settings” such as doctor's offices. The company plans to begin selling the tests at the end of March.

China, where the virus first began late last year, has reported no new local infections for the third day in a row. Travel restrictions within the country are beginning to ease, but the country still faces the threat of infections coming from abroad.

According to WHO guidelines, the Hubei province will have to report no new infections for 14 consecutive days for the epidemic to be considered over.

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