More than half a million people have tested positive in US

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THE US death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed Italy’s for the highest in the world yesterday  at more than 19,700, as Chicago and other cities across the Midwest braced for a potential surge in victims and moved to snuff out smouldering hot spots of contagion before they erupt.

It recorded more than 500,000 confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Globally, over 102,700 people have died and nearly 1.7 million have been sickened by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

With the New York area still deep in crisis, fear mounted over the spread of the scourge into the nation’s heartland.

Twenty-four residents of an Indiana nursing home hit by Covid-19 have died, while a nursing home in Iowa saw 14 deaths. Chicago’s Cook County has set up a temporary morgue that can take more than 2,000 bodies. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been going around telling groups of people to “break it up”.

Around the world, meanwhile, European countries used roadblocks, drones, helicopters, mounted patrols and the threat of fines to keep people from travelling over Easter weekend. And with infections and deaths slowing in Italy, Spain and other places on the Continent, governments took tentative steps toward loosening the weeks-long shutdowns.

Glorious weather across Europe posed an extra test of people’s discipline.

“Don’t do silly things,” said Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s special commissioner for the virus emergency. “Don’t go out, continue to behave responsibly as you have done until today, use your head and your sense of responsibility.”

Italian authorities set up roadblocks around Milan to discourage people from going on holiday trips. British police kept a close watch on gatherings in parks and at the seaside on what was set to be the hottest day of the year. France deployed some 160,000 police, including officers on horseback who patrolled beaches and parks.

“It’s useless to pack your bags for a vacation,” the Paris police headquarters tweeted.

The outbreak’s centre of gravity has long since shifted from China to Europe and the United States, which now has by far the largest number of confirmed cases, with more than half a million, and a death toll higher than Italy’s count of nearly 19,500.

The death rate – that is, the number of dead relative to the population – is still far higher in Italy than in US, which has more than five times as many people. And worldwide, the true numbers of dead and infected are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, different counting practices and concealment by some governments.

About half the deaths in the United States are in the New York metropolitan area, where hospitalization are nevertheless slowing down and other indicators suggest social distancing is “flattening the curve” of infections and staving off the doomsday scenarios of just a week or two ago.

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