NEW YORK: Americans braced for what the nation's top doctor warned Sunday would be "the hardest and saddest week" of their lives while Britain assumed the unwelcome mantle of deadliest coronavirus hot spot in Europe after a record 24-hour jump in deaths that surpassed even hard-hit Italy's.
Britain's own prime minister, Boris Johnson, was hospitalized, 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19 in what his office described as a "precautionary step."
Amid the dire news, there were also glimmers of hope some hard-hit areas, the number of people dying appeared to be slowing in New York City, Spain and Italy.
The news was cautiously welcomed by leaders, who also noted that any gains could easily be reversed if people did not continue to adhere to strict lockdowns.
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams offered a stark warning about the expected wave of virus deaths.
"This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment,'' he told Fox News Sunday.
"But President Donald Trump later suggested the hard weeks ahead could foretell the turning of a corner. We're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel," Trump said at an evening White House briefing.
In New York City, the US epicenter of the pandemic, daily deaths dropped slightly, along with intensive care admissions and the number of patients who needed breathing tubes inserted, but New York state Gov.
Andrew Cuomo warned it was "too early to tell" the significance of those numbers. Italy and Spain also got some encouraging news.
Italy registered its lowest day-to-day increase in deaths in more than two weeks, 525, said Angelo Borrelli, the head of the national Civil Protection agency.
The pace of infection also seemed to be slowing.
Even so, Borrelli warned, "This good news shouldn't make us drop our guard." Confirmed infections fell in Spain, too, and new deaths declined for the third straight day, dropping to 674, the first time daily deaths have fallen below 800 in the past week.
The outlook, however, was bleak in Britain, which reported more than 600 deaths Sunday, surpassing Italy's increase.
Italy still has, by far, the world's highest coronavirus death toll, almost 16,000.
In a rare televised address, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons to rise the occasion, while acknowledging enormous disruptions, grief and financial difficulties.
"I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge," she said.
"And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any."
Johnson, meanwhile, has been hospitalized, though his office said it was not an emergency and that the 55-year-old Conservative will undergo tests.
There are concerns that Johnson's government did not take the virus seriously enough at first and that spring weather will tempt Britons and others to break social distancing rules.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the U.K. might even ban outdoor exercise if people still ''flout the rules.''
"The vast majority of people are following the public health advice, which is absolutely critical, and staying at home," Hancock told Sky TV.
"But there are a small minority of people who are still not doing that" it's quite unbelievable, frankly, to see that."
As the numbers of infections rose, Saffron Cordery, the deputy head of Britain's National Health Service Providers, said the agency needed to focus on quickly increasing ventilator capacity and getting more protective equipment for health care workers.
Italians have not been immune to lure of the good weather, either.
Top Italian officials took to national television after photos were published showing huge crowds out shopping.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza told RAI state television that all the sacrifices Italians have made since the nationwide lockdown began risked being reversed.
Restrictions on movement vary from country to country, state to state, locality to locality.