A SURGE in coronavirus infections has made America the world’s hardest-hit nation amid warnings the pandemic is accelerating in cities such as New York, Chicago and Detroit.

The update came as a record $2.2 trillion (£1.8 trillion) emergency package neared final approval by Congress to help millions of newly unemployed Americans and struggling companies.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Coronavirus cases soar in US.Camley's Cartoon: Coronavirus cases soar in US.

The situation in countries with more fragile health care systems grew more dire yesterday. Russia, Indonesia and South Africa all passed the 1,000-infection mark and South Africa began a three-week lockdown.

India launched a massive programme to help feed day labourers after a lockdown of the country’s 1.3 billion people put them out of work.

In France, a 16-year-old student became the youngest person in the country to die from the virus. 

Her sister said she was admitted to hospital on Monday after developing a “slight cough” last week, and she died on Tuesday in hospital in Paris.

“We must stop believing this only affects the elderly,” said the sister. 

“No one is invincible against this mutant virus.”

France has reported more than 1,600 deaths and 29,000 infections.

America has more than 85,000 confirmed cases, and Italy is set to pass China’s 81,782 infections.

The three countries account for 46 per cent of the world’s nearly 540,000  infections and more than half of its acknowledged deaths.

Analysts warned all infection figures could be low for varying reasons.

“China numbers can’t be trusted because the government lies,” said American political scientist Ian Bremmer, president of the Euraisa Group think-tank.

“US numbers can’t be trusted because the government can’t produce enough tests.”

Italian epidemiologists warn the country’s numbers are likely to be much higher than reported – perhaps five times as higher – although two weeks into a nationwide lockdown the daily increase seems to be slowing, at least in northern Italy.

Spain’s cases increased by 7,800 yesterday to total 64,059. There were a total of 4,858 deaths, 769 more than a day earlier.

The day-on-day increase of infections is slightly lower for the first time since a rapid rise in early March.

There was a 8,500 increase reported on Thursday. Spain has the second-highest tally in Europe and fourth in the world.

The worldwide death toll climbed to more than 24,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, but more than 124,000 people have recovered, about half in China.

New York state, the epicentre of the US outbreak, reported 100 more deaths in one day, accounting for almost 30% of the 1,300 fatalities nationwide.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the number of deaths will increase soon as critically ill patients who have been on ventilators for days succumb.

Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response co-ordinator, 
said counties in the Mid West around Chicago and Detroit are seeing a rapid increase in cases.

Washington DC confirmed 36 new cases, raising its total to 267. The district is under a state of emergency with major attractions closed and White House and Capitol tours cancelled.

Russian authorities ramped up testing this week after widespread criticism of insufficient screening.

The stay-home order for India’s 1.3 billion people threw out of work 
the backbone of the nation’s economy – rickshaw drivers, fruit sellers, cleaners and others who buy food with their daily earnings. 

The government announced an £18bn stimulus to deliver monthly rations to 800 million people.

In China, where the virus is believed to have started, the National Health Commission reported 55 new cases, 54 of them imported infections.

Again there were no new cases reported in Wuhan, the provincial capital where coronavirus first emerged in December. China is barring most foreigners from entering.

In a phone call yesterday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told American President Donald Trump that China “understands the United States’ current predicament over the Covid-19 outbreak and stands ready to provide support within its capacity”.

The two countries should “work together to boost co-operation in epidemic control and other fields, and develop a relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win co-operation”, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.