The number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world soared past one million on Thursday and deaths topped 50,000 as Europe reeled from the pandemic and the United States reported the highest daily death toll so far of any country.
Despite more than half the planet imposing some form of lockdown, the virus claimed thousands more lives, with the US, Spain and Britain seeing the highest number of daily fatalities yet.
And it continued to wreak havoc on the global economy, with the US announcing a record 6.65 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week and Spain reporting its biggest monthly increase in jobless claims ever.
COVID-19 is currently spreading the most rapidly in the United States, where there have been 243,453 infections and 5,926 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The US saw 1,169 deaths in 24 hours, the highest one-day toll recorded in any country since the global pandemic began. The grim record was previously held by Italy, where 969 people died on March 27.
The pandemic disrupted the US election calendar as the Democratic Party announced it was postponing its convention to choose a November opponent for President Donald Trump from July 13-16 to August 17.
Trump described the US unemployment figures as “terrible” but predicted rosily that “when this is over… we’re going to have boom times.”
The US president also said he had taken a second virus test and the result came back negative.
Around 85 per cent of Americans are under some form of stay-at-home order, but there have been warnings of a potentially staggering US death toll, and disaster response agency FEMA asked the American military for 100,000 body bags on Thursday.
In New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents to cover their faces when outside and Vice President Mike Pence said there would be a recommendation on the use of masks by the general public in the next few days.
Also in the US, a virus-hit cruise ship, the Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, was finally allowed to dock in Florida after being stranded at sea for weeks.
Since emerging in China in December, Covid-19 has infected at least 1,013,157 people — including over half a million in Europe — and claimed 52,983 lives, according Johns Hopkins University.
Italy, the hardest-hit country in terms of deaths, has 115,242 reported cases and 13,915 deaths while Spain has 110,238 cases and 10,003 fatalities.
The number of actual infections is believed to be higher since many countries are only testing severe cases or patients requiring hospitalisation.
Europe has been at the centre of the crisis for weeks, but there have been signs that the epidemic could be approaching its peak there.
Spain and Britain saw record numbers of new deaths in the past 24 hours — 950 and 569 respectively.
France recorded 471 hospital deaths, down from the previous day, but also announced a new figure of 884 deaths in old people’s homes since the epidemic began.
Italy registered 760 new deaths, with its numbers continuing to fall, and Spain said the rate of new infections continued a downward trend.
“The data show the curve has stabilised” and the epidemic has entered a “slowdown” phase, Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
The virus has chiefly affected the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, but recent cases have highlighted it can kill people of all ages.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “massively increase testing” as his health minister said the aim was 100,000 tests a day within weeks.
Johnson, speaking from self-isolation, has come in for criticism of his government’s failure to provide widespread screening, particularly for front line health workers.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin extended paid non-working days until the end of April as the number of confirmed cases jumped by more than a quarter on Thursday to 3,548 with 30 deaths.
Most of the Russian population is on lockdown, with Moscow in particular facing tough isolation rules.
Thailand became the latest country to impose strict lockdown measures with the introduction of a curfew from Friday, pushing the number of people in confinement to 3.9 billion, or half the world’s population.
The virus and the measures taken to contain it have raised fears of the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The US Labor Department said the 6.65 million workers who filed for unemployment benefits last week was double the number the previous week, and the most ever recorded.
Economists warned US job losses could surge to a previously unimaginable 10 to 20 million in April.
Financial ratings agency Fitch on Thursday predicted that the US and euro zone economies would contract this quarter by up to 30 per cent on an annualized basis, as struggling businesses slash investment and widespread unemployment dampens consumer spending.
World leaders have announced huge financial aid packages to deal with the crisis and the World Bank on Thursday approved a plan to roll out $160 billion in emergency aid over 15 months.
On the sports front, the British government said English Premier League footballers should take a pay cut, amid outrage at top-flight clubs using a furlough scheme for non-playing staff.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said everyone needed to play a part in the fight against coronavirus. “That means Premier League footballers too,” he said.