• Spike in deaths in Britain and New York
• British PM Boris Johnson out of ICU, still hospitalised
• Surges of reported new infections in Japan and in India's congested cities
• Germany's Merkel stresses discipline, "cautious optimism" in virus fight

New York state reported 799 more deaths overnight (NZ time), its third straight day of record-high fatalities.

More than 7000 people have now died in the state, accounting for almost half the US death toll of about 15,000.

"That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking, I don't even have the words for it," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

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"It's gotten to the point, quite frankly, where we're going to bring in additional funeral directors to deal with the number of people who passed.

"If you ever told me that as Governor I would have to take these actions — I couldn't even contemplate where we are now."

He added that there were some hopeful signs, including slowdowns in the number of people being hospitalised and being admitted to intensive care, and that hospitals are standing up the strain so far.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a third night in intensive care in St Thomas's Hospital in central London with Covid-19. He has since been released back to a ward.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has been moved this evening from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery."

Britain recorded 881 new deaths overnight NZ time, for a total of close to 8000 (more details below).

Johnson's office said the PM was in "extremely good spirits".

The British leader tested positive for the new coronavirus two weeks ago and at first had only "mild" symptoms.

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He was hospitalised Sunday and taken to the ICU a day later.

As Johnson recovered, the government told Britons it was too early to ease restrictions on public activity imposed March 23 to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The original restrictions were for three weeks, a period that ends Monday.

But no decision on lifting the government's stay-home order and business closures will be made "until evidence clearly shows that we've moved beyond the peak" of the outbreak, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

Raab said "we're starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we've all made, but the deaths are still rising and we haven't yet reached the peak of the virus".

He said the government and its scientific experts would assess the evidence again next week.

"We mustn't give the coronavirus a second chance to kill more people and to hurt our country," Raab said at the government's daily news conference.

Meanwhile, numbers released Thursday by the US, the world's largest economy, showed 6.6 million American workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, on top of more than 10 million in the two weeks before that.

Birdsong, blaring sirens: A pandemic in sound. Video / AP


That means more than 1 in 10 US workers have been forced out of a job since the crisis took hold, the biggest, fastest pileup of job losses since record-keeping began in 1948.

The real numbers could be even higher because state unemployment offices around the country have been overwhelmed with claims, and some people have been unable to get through by telephone or website. And still more job cuts are expected.

The US unemployment rate in April could hit 15 per cent — a number last seen at the tail end of the Depression.

The Federal Reserve announced it would provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans targeted toward both households and businesses. In Europe, finance ministers from the 19-nation eurozone were set to make another attempt Thursday to agree on measures to help the bloc weather the crisis.

In many European countries, where the social safety nets tend to be stronger than in the US, government programmes that subsidise workers' pay are keeping millions of people on payrolls in places like Germany and France, though typically with fewer hours and at lower wages. Such workers are not counted in the countries' unemployment figures.

The United Nations' labour organisation said the equivalent of 195 million fulltime jobs could be lost in the second quarter to business shutdowns caused by the outbreak. The aid organisation Oxfam International warned of a looming spike in global poverty, estimating half a billion people worldwide could be pushed into poverty if wealthier nations do not take urgent action.

The US has by far the most confirmed infections with over 430,000, three times the number of the next three countries combined.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top American infectious-diseases expert, shot down hopes that warmer spring weather would bring an end to the crisis.

"One should not assume that we are going to be rescued by a change in the weather," he said. "You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing."

Around the world, authorities warned against travel during the Easter and Ramadan religious holidays.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised "even short trips inside Germany, to the seaside or the mountains or relatives, can't happen over Easter".

The Dutch prime minister said border crossings with Germany and Belgium could be closed over the weekend if there is too much traffic.

New Zealand police warned people not to drive to holiday homes over Easter and risk arrest, while Lithuania moved to lock down major cities. Portugal halted commercial flights and set up checkpoints on major roads.

Greece also tightened restrictions ahead of next week's Orthodox Easter, increasing roadblocks, doubling fines for lockdown violations and banning travel between islands.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested mass gatherings may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which runs from late April through most of May.

Khamenei urged the Shiite faithful to pray at home. Shiites typically pray together and often hold communal meals during Ramadan. Iran has reported over 4100 deaths, although experts suspect the outbreak is worse that that.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Indonesia's president banned civil servants, police officers, military personnel and employees of state-owned companies from returning to their hometowns to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Typically tens of millions Indonesians crisscross the archipelago of 17,000 islands at that time of year.

Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time, a worrisome rise since it has the world's oldest population and Covid-19 can be especially serious in the elderly.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency, but not a lockdown, in Tokyo and six other prefectures. Companies in the world's third-largest economy have been slow to embrace working from home, and many commuters jammed Tokyo's streets as usual.

New infections, hospitalisations and deaths have been leveling off in hard-hit Italy and Spain, which together have around 33,000 deaths, but the daily tolls are still shocking. Spain reported 683 more deaths, bringing its total to more than 15,200.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez acknowledged authorities were caught off guard by the crisis and failed to provide hospitals with critical supplies, including virus tests and protective clothing for medical workers.

"Europe reacted late. All of the West reacted late, and Spain is no exception," Sánchez said.

Worldwide, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has climbed to more than 1.5 million, with nearly 90,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and the efforts of some governments to conceal the extent of their outbreaks.

For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms like fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia. More than 330,000 people have recovered.

United Kingdom

The British government's two chief advisers on the coronavirus pandemic voiced cautious optimism that the country's outbreak may be near its peak even as the Covid-19 death toll rose sharply to just shy of 8000.

In the government's daily press briefing, chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance noted signs that the rise in new coronavirus cases and the increase in the number of people going into hospital maybe levelling off as a result of the social distancing measures imposed. He also said the transmission of the coronavirus within the community may now be "shrinking."

And Professor Chris Whitty, the government's chief medical adviser, also noted that the time it takes for the number of people in intensive care to double has got steadily longer over the past couple of weeks, from three days to six or more now and "extending in time".

However, the number of people dying after testing positive for COVID-19 disease is set to carry on an upward trajectory for a couple of weeks in light of the lags involved, Vallance said.

Government figures earlier showed that the UK recorded 881 new coronavirus-related deaths, up from 938 in the previous 24-hour period. In total, 7978 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus.

London's mayor appealed to supermarkets to lend a helping hand to food banks struggling with a collapse in donations amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Mayor Sadiq Khan says food banks are reporting critical shortages of food, and that some have closed or are at risk of closing. The shortages come amid a surge in demand for food during the crisis — particularly pantry staples such as pasta, rice and canned goods that are usually are stocked by foodbanks.

The mayor appealed to grocers to organise additional direct donations to food banks and to lift the restriction on the amount of items per person an individual can purchase to enable foodbanks to properly restock.

Khan says "there is a real risk of people going without food during this crisis and in particular, for those in some parts of London, the risk will be even greater over the coming Easter weekend."

Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians will need to stay at home and practise physical distancing for months as the first wave of cases in the country won't end until the summer and Canada won't return to normal until there is vaccine.

Trudeau says a vaccine could take a year or a year and half. He made the comments as Canada's top public health officer predicted the coronavirus pandemic could cost at least 4500 lives and a government agency announced the Canadian economy lost 1,011,000 jobs in March.

Trudeau says the country is in the early stage of the outbreak because the virus came to Canada later and says the first wave won't reach its peak until late spring. Trudeau calls it the "challenge of our generation".

France

French President Emmanuel Macron has flown to southern France to meet with a prominent virologist who has championed the use of anti-malaria drug chloroquine to help fighting the coronavirus.

Macron met for two hours with Didier Raoult at his Marseille hospital on Thursday afternoon to discuss his findings. Raoult said he will be able to publish new results in the coming days, Macron's office said.

Raoult, whose study has been taken up by US President Donald Trump, has emerged as a controversial figure since saying the chloroquine can help treat the Covid-19 disease.

Some other French and international scientists have said the Marseille study doesn't show evidence of the drug's effectiveness.

Macron's office said the trip to Marseille is part of broader discussions of the French president with scientists about several ongoing clinical trials to find potential treatments.

On Thursday morning, Macron visited a hospital in the Paris region to meet with other researchers.

He is scheduled to make an address to the nation on Monday.

Turkey

Turkey reported 96 Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours — its highest single-day number of fatalities since the outbreak began. The losses increased the death toll to 908.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca also reported 4056 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, raising the total number of cases in the country to 42,282.

A total of 1552 people with infections are in intensive care, including 1017 intubated patients, while 2142 patients have recovered, according to figures Koca posted on Twitter.

Koca said 28,578 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, bringing Turkey close to its aim of carrying out 30,000 tests daily.

The World Health Organisation expressed alarm over the "dramatic increase in virus spread" in Turkey over the past week.

Italy

The virus-ravaged region of Lombardy crossed the 10,000-death mark in its battle against the coronavirus, while Italy as a whole continued its slow pace to bring the numbers of new infections down.

Lombardy accounted for 300 of the 610 deaths nationwide over the past 24 hours, evidence that the original epicentre of Europe's Covid-19-19 pandemic remains its most deadly. Overall, Italy has the world's highest coronavirus death toll, at 18,279.

Nearly 2000 more people were declared cured of the virus over the past day, but 4204 more tested positive, bringing Italy's official caseload to 143,626. Two-thirds of those currently infected are being treated at home, further easing pressure on the hospital system.

Officials are urging Italians to adhere rigidly to the nationwide lockdown that marks its one-month mark Friday, particularly with the long Easter weekend starting.

Greece

Greek authorities have reported 71 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 1955, and three deaths, raising the overall toll to 86.

Authorities also said on Thursday that 79 people remain intubed in intensive care, while a total 33,634 tests for the virus have been carried out.

Health officials added that there is no need right now to recommend the use of masks for the healthy general population, while widespread use of gloves by the public may not serve much purpose.

Indonesia

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced that people who violate large-scale social restrictions in the capital city will face a maximum of one year's imprisonment and/or a 100 million rupiah (US$6355) fine.

Baswedan on Thursday issued the gubernatorial decree on the imposition of large-scale social restrictions in Jakarta that start on Friday as the part of efforts to prevent more transmission of Covid-19.

The local government will ban every event that will involve more than five participants.

As of Thursday, the government recorded more than half of the infection cases of Covid-19 are found in Jakarta. There are 1706 Covid-19 cases in Jakarta from total 3293 cases in Indonesia. Indonesia recorded a total 280 deaths and 142 of them are in Jakarta.

United Nations

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic is deepening already existing inequalities and is having "devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls" that could reverse limited progress toward gender equality over the past 25 years.

The UN chief said in a video message and policy paper that "across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of Covid-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex".

While early data indicates that the mortality rates from Covid-19 may be higher for men, Gutterres said "nearly 60 percent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty."

He said millions of women's jobs have been lost at the same time that their unpaid work has "increased exponentially" as a result of school closures and children being at home and the increased needs of older people.