The global Covid-19 death toll passed three million on Saturday as the pandemic speeds up despite vaccination campaigns, leading countries like India to impose new lockdowns to fight spiralling infection numbers.
It is the latest grim milestone since the novel coronavirus first surfaced in central China in December 2019 and went on to infect more than 139 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.
An average of more than 12,000 deaths were recorded globally every day in the past week, shooting the overall toll past three million on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.
For comparison, three million people is more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia — and three times the death toll of the Iran-Iraq war which raged from 1980-1988.
And the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: the 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP’s tally.
The daily average of 731,000 cases registered over the last week is also close to being a record.
India’s capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world’s second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths.
South Asian ‘wake-up call’
India now has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world’s worst-hit nation, and families are clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.
Some doctors say they are alarmed at how many young people are now getting seriously ill — like Raj Karan, who got sick while campaigning for elections in the northern city of Luckno.
The 38-year-old died soon after.
“I am devastated… I could only see him via a video call,” his friend Ajay Singh Yadav, told AFP.
Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.
Udaya Regmi of the international Red Cross said the “truly frightening” South Asian surge was a “wake-up call to the world”.
Richer countries that have waged mass inoculation efforts have seen their virus numbers plummet.
Britain, which has given 60 percent of the population at least one vaccination dose, now records around 30 deaths a day — down from 1,200 in late January.
Thailand recorded its fourth consecutive day of more than 1,000 new cases on Saturday, with spiralling infections linked to a nightlife district of the capital Bangkok earlier this month.
Alcohol sales will be banned in Bangkok restaurants from Sunday, while entertainment venues will be shuttered across the country for two weeks.
In Japan, rising virus cases have stoked speculation that the Olympic Games — postponed last year due to the pandemic — could be cancelled.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first meeting with US President Joe Biden, said his government was listening to experts and doing its “utmost” to prepare for the Tokyo games in July.
The virus continues to impact events elsewhere in the world.
On Saturday, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II bid a final farewell to her late husband, Prince Philip, at a funeral restricted by coronavirus, with only 30 guests allowed to attend.
Family members — all masked — sat socially distanced in the church for the pared-down ceremony, with bottles of hand sanitiser seen among the floral tributes inside.
In Brazil, the country with the third-highest death toll in the world, night shifts have been added to several cemeteries as diggers work around the clock to bury the dead.
One of these is Vila Formosa, the largest cemetery in Latin America and a showcase for the lethal cost of the pandemic in Brazil, where more than 365,000 people have died from Covid-19.
“We try not to get upset in our work, but it is sad, it is a lot of people,” one of the gravediggers there said after a long shift.
Despite the high infection rate, the government of Brazil’s most populous state Sao Paulo announced it will allow businesses and places of worship to reopen from Sunday.
‘Cautious optimism’ in Europe
But there was better news in Europe, where some countries are easing their lockdowns in response to not only fatigue, but falling infection numbers and progress with vaccinations.
Italy announced Friday it will ease coronavirus restrictions for schools and restaurants from April 26.
Expressing “cautious optimism”, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said his government was taking a “calculated risk”.
In more good news for Britons after the partial reopening of society this week, Germany on Friday removed the United Kingdom from the list of risk zones for coronavirus infections, meaning that travellers will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.
Spain meanwhile extended the mandatory quarantine of passengers arriving from 12 countries in South America and Africa, including Brazil and South Africa, over concerns about more transmissible variants.
The death toll in the Myanmar military’s crackdown on protesters has passed 500, as armed rebel groups on Tuesday threatened the junta with retaliation if the bloodshed does not stop.
World powers have ramped up their condemnation of the military’s campaign against the anti-coup movement that is demanding the restoration of the elected government and the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Washington suspended a trade pact with Myanmar and UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a united global front to pressure the junta after more than 100 protesters were killed in a bloody weekend.
Adding to that pressure campaign, a trio of ethnic rebel groups on Tuesday condemned the crackdown and threatened to fight alongside protesters unless the military reined in its violence.
Daily rallies across Myanmar by unarmed demonstrators have been met with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said it had confirmed a total of 510 civilian deaths but warned the true toll was probably significantly higher.
On Tuesday, protesters in Yangon emptied rubbish bags in the streets as part of the latest action, while in the town of Muse in Shan state a 35-year-old protester was shot dead.
– Rebel warning –
Three of the country’s myriad armed ethnic insurgent groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army (AA) — issued a joint statement threatening retaliation.
“If they do not stop, and continue to kill the people, we will cooperate with the protesters and fight back,” the statement said.
If such groups take up arms, Debbie Stothard at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) warned that the situation could degenerate into civil war.
Two dozen ethnic minority rebellions have flared in Myanmar since independence from British colonial rule in 1948, fighting over autonomy, ethnic identity, drugs and natural resources.
The military has sought to cut deals with some armed groups and earlier this month took the AA off the list of terrorist organisations.
But over the weekend it launched airstrikes in eastern Karen state — the first such strikes in 20 years — targeting the Fifth Brigade of the Karen National Union (KNU) after the group seized a military base.
An estimated 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand, according to local groups.
Hsa Moo, a Karen human rights activist, told AFP that the Thai authorities had pushed the people back and accused them of blocking UN refugee officials from the area.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha insisted that there was “no influx” of refugees and that the kingdom’s authorities had not “scared them off with guns or sticks”.
Thai police said they had intercepted 10 parcels containing 112 grenades and 6,000 rounds of ammunition in northern Chiang Rai province that had been destined for Myanmar’s notorious border town Tachileik.
– Global concern –
UN Secretary-General Guterres said the crackdown was “absolutely unacceptable” and urged the Myanmar authorities to undertake a “serious democratic transition”.
US President Joe Biden’s administration announced Monday that the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which laid out ways to boost business but was not a fully-fledged deal, would remain suspended until democracy is restored.
The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation, diplomatic sources said, after Britain called for emergency talks.
France condemned the violence as “blind and deadly” and China added its voice to a chorus of international concern on Monday, calling for restraint from all sides.
The Kremlin said it was “very concerned” by growing civilian casualties, despite acknowledging it was building ties with the military authorities.
The US, Britain and the EU have all imposed sanctions in response to the coup and crackdown, but so far diplomatic pressure has not persuaded the generals to ease off.
Meanwhile, Myanmar footballer Hein Htet Aung, who plays for a Malaysian club, has been hit with a one-match ban for flashing the three-finger salute used by anti-coup protesters during a game, an official said Tuesday.
President Joe Biden warned on Friday that the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States was expected to surpass 600,000 and urged Congress to move fast on his $1.9 trillion plan to battle Covid-19 and provide economic relief to struggling Americans.
While Biden called for urgent passage of his “American Rescue Plan,” his efforts to get Congress to cooperate on his fast-paced agenda could be complicated by Donald Trump’s looming impeachment trial in the Senate.
Top Democratic lawmakers said Friday that they planned to send the article of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives to the Senate on Monday, triggering Trump’s trial in the body.
“The virus is surging,” Biden told reporters at the White House before signing executive orders boosting food aid and speeding up stimulus payments to Americans.
“We’re at 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted. Job losses are mounting again. We need to act now… We need to move fast.”
Biden added that he was looking forward to working with both parties in Congress to “move quickly” on getting people help through his rescue plan.
“The bottom line is this: We’re in a national emergency. We’ve got to act like we’re in a national emergency,” he said.
Biden is having to push Congress for funding while simultaneously getting his government confirmed — Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin won Senate approval Friday — and bracing for turmoil from the impeachment trial.
Trump was impeached by the House on January 13 for inciting supporters to storm Congress a week earlier.
“A trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote whether to convict the president,” Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said.
Barrage of executive orders
Although Biden’s latest executive orders on food aid and stimulus payments were modest in scale, they reinforced the message that Washington needs to step in decisively against the pandemic and related economic fallout.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provides more than $400 billion to tackle the pandemic along with additional funding for small businesses and direct relief payments to Americans.
But Congress, having already passed two huge economic relief bills, is reluctant. The president’s Democratic Party has only a small majority in the House and a razor-thin advantage in the Senate.
Biden is also relying on the Senate to hurry up and approve his cabinet nominations.
Brian Deese, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said Republicans and Democrats in Congress must find ways to manage the clashing issues.
“We are facing right now a period of multiple crises and what we need right now is to be able to act on multiple fronts,” he said.
The new administration has brought a calmer style after the stormy Trump era, but Biden’s cascade of executive orders since the moment he entered the White House on Wednesday is making plenty of noise of its own.
On Inauguration Day, the 78-year-old Democrat signed 17 actions. He signed 10 on Thursday and another two on Friday.
The slew of orders has covered top campaign agenda items, including the political hot potato of immigration reform.
Biden extended protections from deportation for so-called “Dreamers” — children of illegal immigrants who have grown up in the country.
But the offensive is overwhelmingly targeted against what Biden described on Friday as a “once in a century public health crisis” and the worst “job and economic crisis in modern history.”
“And the crisis is only deepening,” he said. “It’s not getting better. It’s deepening.”
‘Walk and chew gum’
On the appointments front, a first key security figure was confirmed on Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. The Senate’s confirmation of Austin on Friday makes him the first African American to lead the Pentagon.
Tony Blinken for secretary of state and Janet Yellen for treasury secretary appeared to be headed for confirmation either Friday or next week.
That already clogged schedule in the legislature will now have to cope with the impeachment drama.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden, who was a senator for decades, remains confident.
“The Senate, members of both parties, can walk and chew gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people,” she said.
The death toll in Jigawa State following the recent floodings has risen to 40 as River Hadejia has overflown its bank to communities.
Multiple houses have been destroyed forcing residents to seek alternative shelters elsewhere.
The chairman of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Yusuf Sani, confirmed this on Tuesday.
“The flood is getting worse by the day. It has now reached Hadejia area and has forced many people out of their homes. Many of them are now living in schools and other alternative shelters they can find,” Sani said.
“The last time I spoke to you, I told you that 33 people have died, but as I’m talking to you now 7 more people have died, including children.”
On his part, Governor Badaru Abubakar said the state government has moved to providing medical help for the flood victims.
He also reiterated the commitment of his administration in ensuring that the people affected by the flood are well fed.
“We have instructed the ministry of education to move all the displaced people to school buildings. We have also directed the ministry of health to stationed health personnel in the camps to provide medical help.
“We would also distribute food items and would try and facilitate the cooking of food in the camps to ensure they are well fed,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, the Internally Displaced Persons have called on the state government to provide them with better shelter.
Wildfires raged Thursday up and down the US West Coast, whipping through towns in three states and prompting widespread evacuations as officials warn the death toll could shoot up in the coming days.
At least seven people have been confirmed dead in California, Oregon and Washington, but officials say some areas are still impossible to reach, meaning the number is likely to rise.
In Butte County, California, where three people have been killed, firefighters battled the flames through the night, after a day of apocalyptic orange skies over the Golden State.
Five towns were “substantially destroyed” as widespread evacuations took place across Oregon, governor Kate Brown said.
“This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history,” she told a press conference.
In Oregon, two deaths were confirmed in the Santiam Canyon region, 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Portland, and another was recorded in the Ashland area.
Only “smoldering ruins” remained of large parts of the town of Talent, local resident Sandra Spelliscy told AFP.
“There are numerous neighborhoods where there are no structures left standing… dozens of homes (gone) and literally nothing except the skeletons of a chimney or an appliance,” she said.
Emergency officials ordered the evacuation of Estacada — a small, rural city 30 miles southeast of Portland.
Jason Valean, 29, fled his house on foot with his two large dogs and was nervously waiting in the central downtown area for his mother.
“She wanted to keep the dogs in their pen, but I wasn’t going to let her,” he said, adding she had released their pigs in the hope they would have a chance of getting away safely.
Another resident said she was planning to stay despite the evacuation order because she worried about looting, although her husband was leaving with their son and granddaughter.
– ‘We just left everything’ –
California and Washington have been scrambling to contain the rapidly spreading wildfires since the weekend due to unprecedented heat waves followed by intense, dry winds.
Among those killed was a one-year-old boy who perished while his parents suffered severe burns as they attempted to flee an inferno 130 miles east of Seattle.
Three unidentified people were also killed in northern California.
Leanna Mikesler, from Clovis in the state’s center, told AFP she had been forced to flee wildfires before, but it was “10 times harder” during the coronavirus pandemic.
People in the San Francisco area awoke Wednesday to a deep orange sky caused by wildfire smoke that at times blocked out sunlight entirely.
Photos of the eerie scene, particularly of a San Francisco skyline fit for a dystopian science fiction film, spread quickly on social media.
Lauren, a 19-year-old San Francisco resident, told AFP: “We were just like, this is the weirdest day we’ve ever seen so we might as well come out and experience that together.”
Much of the smoke blew down from the north, where the Bear Fire exploded at an unprecedented speed overnight, combining with older blazes to threaten the town of Oroville.
Evacuation warnings were expanded to parts of the town of Paradise, the site of California’s deadliest modern fire which killed 86 people less than two years ago.
At the Creek Fire in central California, exhausted firefighters raced between blazes as thick columns of smoke rose up from the Sierra forest — now closed, along with all 18 of the state’s national forests.
In one home near Shaver Lake, only the scorched remains of a washing machine, outdoor dining table and chairs were left standing beside the ash-coated chassis of a pickup truck.
“It’s scary… we just left everything,” said 68-year-old Sandy Clark, who fled her home for a hotel rather than a crowded shelter due to coronavirus fears.
– ‘We must do more’ –
Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate homes across the region.
In Washington, where the town of Malden was decimated, Governor Jay Inslee described the wildfires as “unprecedented and heartbreaking,” and blamed the ferocity of this year’s fires on climate change.
California Governor Gavin Newsom added: “I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers… It’s completely inconsistent… with the reality on the ground.”
He tweeted: “We must do more. We need action at EVERY level. CA cannot do this alone. Climate change is REAL. So please — VOTE.”
California has seen more than 2.5 million acres burn this year — an annual record, with nearly four months of fire season still to come.
More than 14,000 firefighters are fighting 28 major wildfires across the country’s most populous state.
The United States announced an emergency authorization to use blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as a treatment for the disease, which has killed more than 800,000 people around the world.
Many governments around the world are renewing efforts — including the reimposition of lockdowns — to contain the virus, which has infected well over 24 million people.
The United States remains the hardest-hit country with more than 176,000 fatalities, and President Donald Trump is under intense pressure to curb the contagion.
The plasma therapy shows “an incredible rate of success” and “will save countless lives”, Trump claimed on Sunday — but that went much further than his own health officials’ cautious welcome of the treatment.
Plasma is believed to contain powerful antibodies that can help fight COVID-19 faster, and has already been used on patients in the United States and other countries.
But the extent of its effectiveness is still being debated by experts and some have warned it could carry side effects.
When challenged by a reporter to explain the contradiction between his confidence in the treatment and the caution among experts, Trump passed the question to one of his experts and then ended the press conference.
Trump will attempt to galvanize support at the Republican convention, which starts Monday, as he faces anger over the pandemic and the ensuing economic turmoil ahead of the November presidential election.
In the polls, he is badly trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who slammed the president for “walking away” as the virus ravaged the United States.
– Extended lockdowns –
Breakneck efforts to develop a vaccine or effective treatments are under way around the world, but until one is available, social distancing measures remain among the few weapons against the virus.
New Zealand on Monday extended the lockdown of its biggest city to Sunday as it battled a small but persistent outbreak.
Auckland went into lockdown on August 12, a day after the virus re-emerged in the city and ended New Zealand’s run of 102 days without local transmission.
European nations have also tightened border restrictions, wary of new virus clusters.
Strict border controls came into effect in Finland on Monday, with arrivals from just a handful of countries able to enter without virus restrictions.
Norway had already tightened its border controls on Saturday, while South Korea imposed social distancing measures nationwide on Sunday to fight its latest outbreak.
Indonesian authorities have banned foreign tourists from Bali, a popular holiday destination, for the rest of 2020 — scrapping plans to open up the island from next month.
– ‘I don’t have money to bury her’ –
The pandemic has devastated the global economy, and policies to reduce the high risk of transmission in large groups of people have impacted everything from sport and religious services to music concerts and elections.
It caused the unprecedented delay of the summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo to next year.
The International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons warned in an interview with AFP that, for the Paralympics to go ahead next year, a guarantee of zero cases was needed.
Some major world sports have resumed but with no spectators.
There was no roar as Bayern Munich on Sunday won the Champions League final — the biggest game in European club football — in an empty, 65,000-capacity Lisbon stadium.
Some nations have had to deal with related tragedies as they have enforced virus lockdowns.
At least 13 young people suffocated in a crush during a raid at a nightclub in Peru’s capital Lima over the weekend, with people trying to escape through a single exit.
“I found out that my daughter died, asphyxiated, this morning,” Gregoria Velasquez, mother of 26-year-old Maryori Salcedo Velasquez, told the America Television channel.
More than 800 Nigerians have now died from COVID-19, the latest data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control showed.
In a tweet late on Monday, the NCDC put Nigeria’s death toll at 801, reflecting 12 more deaths from the dreaded pandemic. Nigeria’s death toll had stood at 789 on Sunday.
In addition to the 12 deaths recorded on Monday, 562 fresh infections were confirmed in 20 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The FCT had 102 of the cases; Lagos reported 100; Plateau, 52; Kwara, 50; Abia, 47; Kaduna, 35 and Benue, 35.
Other states were infections were confirmed on Monday are Oyo (26), Ebonyi (24), Kano (16), Niger (15), Anambra (14), Gombe (12), Edo (11), Rivers (6), Nasarawa (5), Delta (5), Borno (3), Enugu (2), Bauchi (2) and Kebbi (1).
The death toll from coronavirus (COVID-19) in Edo State has risen to 35 with nearly 1,000 confirmed cases in the state.
The Commissioner for Health in Edo, Dr Patrick Okundia, disclosed this on Monday while briefing reporters in Benin City, the state capital.
He stressed the need for residents to adhere to preventive measures such as the use of face masks, handwashing, and physical distancing, to protect themselves and others from being infected with the disease.
Okundia called on the residents to support the government’s efforts at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting them by complying with the guidelines to contain the pandemic.
“Complying with these directives will imply that we care about the well-being of others, especially the elderly, and are determined to protect them from getting infected by the deadly virus that has continued to claim thousands of lives globally,” he said.
The commissioner added, “The Edo State government has taken serious steps to contain the pandemic across all communities in the state, but we have observed poor compliance among members of the public towards COVID-19 preventive measures.
“This is even as some give out wrong addresses and phone numbers during sample collection, which makes it difficult for contact tracers to track down confirmed cases after laboratory results are released.”
Okundia, therefore, urged all residents to stay at home and observe all precautionary measures against the spread of the infectious disease.
He noted that the government has introduced two toll-free lines for COVID-19 response to strengthen the initial lines from the State Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) distributed at the outset of the outbreak.
The commissioner said so far, Edo has confirmed 962 cases out of 5,838 suspected cases, with 277 patients successfully treated and discharged.
He added that the state has 2,577 line-listed contacts and 347 Persons of Interest (POIs).
The global death toll from the coronavirus neared 400,000 on Saturday with fatalities accelerating in Latin America, as oil-producing countries agreed to extend output cuts to offset a collapse in prices caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.
Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll but President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the World Health Organization (WHO) over “ideological bias”, following the example of the United States.
Bolsonaro is among those arguing that the economic damage lockdowns are causing is worse than the virus itself — and the oil industry has been hit particularly hard.
The cartel of oil-producing nations OPEC agreed on Saturday to extend an April deal to cut production through July, aiming to foster a recovery in oil prices after they were pummelled by slumps in demand caused by virus restrictions.
National governments are also increasingly focused on repairing the economic damage — even hard-hit European countries are now opening their borders and allowing people to return to work.
However, the search for a treatment for the virus still appears a long way from success.
Late on Friday, a study from Oxford University based on clinical trials concluded that hydroxychloroquine — a malaria drug championed as a treatment by Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump — showed “no beneficial effect” in treating COVID-19.
US ‘Largely Through’
The new coronavirus has killed more than 397,000 people and infected 6.8 million globally, the worst health crisis in more than a century that has tipped the global economy into a crushing downturn and forced tens of millions out of work in the United States alone.
The US is the world’s hardest-hit nation, with over 109,000 dead and nearly 1.9 million infections.
However, Trump said the economy was bouncing back.
“We had the greatest economy in the history of the world. And that strength let us get through this horrible pandemic, largely through, I think we’re doing really well,” he told reporters.
Trump, who is facing re-election in November, reiterated his calls to further ease stay-at-home measures, after surprisingly upbeat employment numbers showed the country gained 2.5 million jobs in May.
In a sign of a slow return to normality in the US, Universal Orlando became the first of the giant theme parks in Florida to reopen — albeit with temperature tests at the entrance and mandatory face masks.
The South Pacific island of French Polynesia also said it would reopen to international travel next month to try to salvage its vital tourism industry.
“We are no longer in a health emergency, but we are facing an economic and social emergency,” said Tourism and Employment Minister Nicole Bouteau.
EU to Reopen Borders
In Europe, badly-hit countries slowly continued on a path toward a post-pandemic normal, also seeking to revive key tourist sectors in time for the summer season.
The European Union said it could reopen borders to travellers from outside the region in early July, after some countries within the bloc reopened to European visitors.
A major Spanish tourism draw, Madrid’s Prado museum, reopened its doors to a handful of visitors on Saturday, putting together more than 200 masterpieces in a new exhibition.
In France, the Palace of Versailles also reopened, but without the US and Chinese tourists that usually make up a third of its visitors.
A top French expert said on Friday that dramatic drops in daily deaths and new cases in the country since their March peaks meant the worst was over.
“We can reasonably say the virus is currently under control,” said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the head of the government’s scientific advisory council.
Still, bleak numbers streamed in from Latin America.
Brazil’s death toll passed 35,000 as Bolsonaro echoed criticism of the WHO by Trump, who has said the US will defund the organisation because it is too close to China.
“I’m telling you right now, the United States left the WHO, and we’re studying that, in the future. Either the WHO works without ideological bias, or we leave, too,” the far-right leader told journalists.
Tolls are also rising sharply in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador. And in Chile, deaths have risen by more than 50 percent in the past week.
Brazil surpassed 30,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as the disease continued to rip through Latin America, while Italy — at one point the hardest-hit country — prepared to reopen its borders in time for the European summer.
After chalking up devastating human losses in Europe, the virus has now taken a firm grip in Latin America, where Brazil surpassed a chilling landmark late Tuesday.
The latest official COVID-19 death toll of 31,199 is the fourth-highest in the world, after the US, Britain and Italy.
The figures come as some Brazilian states began to emerge from weeks of economically-stifling quarantine measures despite warnings from the WHO and epidemiologists it is too much, too soon.
“In the current situation, relaxing the measures is adding gasoline to the fire,” Rafael Galliez, an infectious diseases expert at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.
– Surf’s up again in Rio –
Yet surfers and swimmers streamed back to the beach in Rio de Janeiro as the city started easing lockdown measures, allowing the reopening of places of worship and water sports.
“I think that here, in the water, there is no risk. It’s not like in the stores,” said Cesar Calmon as he delighted in the waves off Ipanema beach.
In Europe, most countries have flattened their initial infection curves and are gradually easing out of confinement as they try to curb the economic fallout of the shutdowns.
Italy reopens its borders to travellers from Europe Wednesday, three months after the country went into lockdown, with hopes for economic revival pinned on reigniting its tourism industry.
But there were fears many foreign tourists will be put off visiting a country where 33,000 people died of the disease.
“Come to Calabria. There’s only one risk: that you’ll get fat,” the southern region’s governor Jole Santelli said as the race began to lure big-spenders — or any spenders — back to Italy’s sandy shores.
– Symbolic victory –
In a symbolic victory in the French capital, Parisians reclaimed beloved cafe terraces that were allowed to sprawl across pavements to accommodate social distancing measures.
“Coffee on a terrace, that’s Paris!” said Martine Depagniat, among those enjoying the new freedom after 10 weeks of closures.
Schools, swimming pools, pubs and tourist sites are steadily reopening across the continent to ease the economic pain, and stock markets rose on European optimism, despite fears of a second wave of infections.
Greece suspended flights to and from Qatar on Tuesday after detecting multiple infections on a flight from Doha to Athens.
The respiratory disease has claimed nearly 400,000 lives and infected more than 6.2 million in its rampage around the globe, upending life for billions since it first emerged in China late last year.
The focus now falls on Latin America, which passed one million cases this week.
Brazil has more than half of that caseload — 555,383 — making it the second most affected country after the United States, where experts fear mass demonstrations over the police killing of African American George Floyd could reignite the spread of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization has warned that healthcare systems could soon be overwhelmed with Peru, Chile and Mexico also seeing big daily increases in infections.
Mexico has also started rebooting the economy after more than two months of shutdown, allowing activity in the car, mining and construction industries to resume.
– Journalists die –
In Venezuela the virus forced political rivals to come together, with the government of Nicolas Maduro striking a deal with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who claims the presidency, to seek resources to address the disease’s spread, all parties confirmed Tuesday.
Meanwhile, at least 20 journalists have died from the coronavirus outbreak in Peru, most of them infected while reporting on the pandemic, often with little protection, the country’s journalists’ union said.
Peru is Latin America’s second worst-hit country after Brazil with more than 170,000 cases and 4,600 deaths.
“As of June 1, the number of dead colleagues is 20 in all of the country,” said Zuliana Lainez of the National Association of Journalists.
Many of them contracted the disease while reporting from streets, markets and hospitals on the effects of the virus, without proper protective equipment, Lainez said.
“They have gone to hospitals, which are foci of infection, with homemade masks,” she said.
Back where it all began in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus first emerged in December, officials touted another success after finding only 300 positive cases after testing nearly 10 million people over the past two weeks.
“These numbers show that Wuhan is now the safest city,” said Feng Zijian, deputy director of China’s National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The US coronavirus death toll passed 100,000 as the pandemic tightened its grip on South America, which is outpacing Europe and the United States in daily infections.
Global cases have surged to nearly 5.7 million, with more than 354,000 deaths, and in a grim signal to other countries hoping to exit lockdown, South Korea re-imposed social distancing rules after a spike in new cases.
Deaths in Brazil topped 25,000 on Wednesday, and its caseload is second only to the United States, where authorities have moved to ease lockdowns and help the battered economy, despite experts recommending they remain on guard for a resurgence of the disease.
“Don’t start leapfrogging over the recommendations of some of the guidelines because that’s really tempting fate and asking for trouble,” Anthony Fauci, one of the top US health advisers, told CNN.
Nearly 1.7 million Americans are known to have been infected with the disease, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Lockdowns in some form will remain necessary until a vaccine or treatment is available, experts have warned, but many governments are under immense pressure to provide relief as businesses and citizens grow weary and resentful of mass confinement.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president and a Trump ally, has slammed stay-at-home orders and played down the threat of the virus, saying the economic fallout of lockdowns causes more damage than the disease itself.
But infections in Brazil have surged past 411,000, and similar bad news continues to emerge from other South American countries.
Peru logged a record 6,154 new cases in a 24-hour period, with its virus response coordinator Pilar Mazzetti warning that “difficult days, difficult weeks are coming.”
Worried relatives outside the Sabogal Hospital in the capital Lima were unable to enter to see loved ones suffering from COVID-19, with some begging the guards for information.
“I want to talk to a doctor and they don’t let me know,” said Liset Villanueva, granddaughter of a coronavirus patient.
“They don’t say anything, they don’t call, they don’t explain anything… What is he suffering from?”
The 79 new cases in South Korea come as life appeared to be returning to normal following an extensive “trace, test and treat” program.
Social distancing rules had been relaxed earlier this month, but following the spike — centred around the densely-populated capital Seoul — authorities ordered some of them be re-imposed, and for museums, parks and galleries to close again from Friday.
– France bans controversial drug –
While scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine, parallel trials are underway to test treatments for COVID-19 symptoms.
France said Wednesday it was banning the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment after the World Health Organization suspended its testing over fears of dangerous side effects.
The drug has proved controversial and divisive, with some leaders and governments still backing it — including President Trump, who said he had taken a course as a preventative measure because he had “heard a lot of good stories” about it.
Health authorities in Brazil and Senegal, and India’s top biomedical research body have said they will continue to use it for COVID-19 patients, but the US Food and Drug Administration has warned of serious side effects and poisoning.
The urgency of the coronavirus crisis has prompted some doctors to prescribe the drug despite a lack of research to demonstrate its effectiveness against the new coronavirus.
– Fans at the French Open? –
As South America and parts of Africa and Asia scramble to deal with their worsening outbreaks, Europe has taken tentative steps to reopen economies and ease lockdowns as new infections slow.
As the continent — which has lost more than 175,000 people to COVID-19 — grappled with the human tragedy and economic destruction, the European Union unveiled a 750-billion-euro ($825 billion) recovery plan to get countries back on their feet.
It follows other emergency measures introduced around the world to rescue economies shattered by the virus, which has also shredded the global sports calendar and brought international travel to a standstill.
Britain’s EasyJet became the latest airline to announce huge redundancies Thursday, when it said it will axe almost a third of its 15,000-strong workforce.
While German top-flight football has resumed in empty stadiums, Roland Garros chiefs insisted Wednesday that the French Open will have fans attending even if they still have to abide by social distancing rules when the delayed Grand Slam tournament is held in September.
There was a reminder, however, of the threat still posed by the coronavirus in England, where the globally popular Premier League announced that four more people at its football clubs had tested positive.
– ‘We are starving’ –
Far from the mega-rich sports leagues of the world, millions are simply trying to survive, having lost their livelihoods during the lockdowns.
In South Africa, millions of refugees and migrants mostly depend on day-to-day informal work, which has catastrophically dried up because of strict confinement measures to contain the lockdown.
Now many are left with few options, as the government called for locals to be favored for jobs as the economy emerges from the crisis.
“As foreign nationals, we are contributing so much to the South African economy, it’s totally unfair from the South African government not to help people living on its own soil,” said Collin Makumbirofa, a 41-year-old Zimbabwean who has been living in Johannesburg for more than a decade.
“It’s very tough, we are starving. Life has become unbearable here.”