A man staffs a hand washing station in Piccadilly Gardens in central London on June 25, 2020. Just days after lockdown ended and European travel restrictions were lifted, many were staying home in the cool as a heatwave hit the continent with temperatures touching 40 degrees Celcius. Britain was bracing for a flood of visitors to its beaches with the heatwave expected to last until Friday and temperatures set to climb into the mid-30s in the south and centre of the country.
US, Europe battle fresh virus surges
Issam Ahmed (Agence France-Presse) - June 26, 2020 - 7:56am

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States on Thursday battled a resurgence of coronavirus cases in a number of states including Texas, while the World Health Organization warned that several European countries were also facing dangerous upticks.

The reminder that the pandemic — which has claimed more than 480,000 lives around the world -—is far from over came amid more grim news for the world's airlines.

Australia's Qantas announced it was cutting 6,000 staff and Germany's Lufthansa moved closer to a $10 billion state rescue when the plan was approved by the European Union.

In the United States, after hitting a two-month plateau, the rate of new cases is now soaring in the south and west, with the confirmed infection rate nearing levels last seen in April.

Texas was among the most aggressive states in reopening in early June after months of lockdowns

Republican Governor Greg Abbott had been confident that Texas had escaped the worst of the US outbreak that has taken almost 122,000 lives, by far the highest toll in the world.

But Abbott was forced Thursday to halt the state's phased reopening and moved to free up hospital beds.

"The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," said Abbott, a close ally of President Donald Trump, who has faced stark criticism for his handling of the crisis.

"This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread."

Twenty-nine states are now facing a rebound in cases. 

Experts blame a patchwork of responses at the official level, the politicization of face masks and physical distancing, and the widespread onset of "quarantine fatigue" among restless Americans.

US health officials now believe based on antibody surveys that some 24 million people may be infected — 10 times higher than the officially recorded figure of around 2.4 million.

They say the demographics of the outbreak are changing as younger people engage in more risky behavior out of a desire to return to their pre-pandemic "normal."

- Pushed 'to the brink' -

In search of that sense of normality, a few dozen tourists braved scorching heat in Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower's iron stairs as it reopened to tourists — without the lifts, deemed too small for social distancing. 

"I'm tearing up, but they're tears of joy," said Therese, 60, from the southwestern city of Perpignan.

Norway, which has some of the most severe travel restrictions still in force, said Thursday it would aim to relax the measures with Schengen and EU nations by mid-July.

And in Britain, some took the new relaxed regime too far, with thousands crowding the beach in the English coastal town of Bournemouth to soak up the sun.

The local council declared a major incident and said the beachgoers' behavior had been "just shocking."

The joyous reopening of tourist sites and beaches was nevertheless tempered by a new warning from the World Health Organization that Europe is not yet in the clear.

WHO regional director Hans Kluge warned that in 11 nations, "accelerated transmission has led to very significant resurgence that if left unchecked will push health systems to the brink once again in Europe."  

Parts of Lisbon reinstated lockdown measures, following in the path of two western German districts.

However, Europe's current caseload compares favorably with that of the Americas, with the US and Brazil continuing to lead the world in confirmed cases and deaths.

- Delicate balance -

Governments are still struggling to balance the public health needs of fighting a virus that has infected at least 9.5 million people with the devastating global economic impact.

The International Monetary Fund is the latest to quantify the economic harm — predicting that global GDP will plunge by 4.9 percent this year and wipe out $12 trillion over two years.

And the problems suffered by Qantas and Lufthansa reveal the pain felt in the airline industry — and more broadly, the tourism sector.

Governments have been desperately trying to keep firms from laying off staff — Spain on Thursday extended its state-funded furlough scheme until the end of September, three months longer than it had planned.

The EU gave a boost to the prospects of antiviral remdesivir on Thursday by recommending it for use — the first treatment to be given the green light in Europe.

But until a vaccine or treatment is found, experts have warned that restrictions on economic activity — and spiralling death tolls — could remain the norm. 

Iran's death toll surpassed 10,000 on Thursday, with health officials recording more than 100 fatalities for the seventh consecutive day.

China, where the disease was first detected late last year, meanwhile declared that it had controlled an outbreak in Beijing that had briefly raised fears of a second wave and prompted restrictions and several million tests. — with AFP bureaus

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 12, 2020 - 9:17am

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

July 12, 2020 - 9:17am

The United States, the country hardest hit by the coronavirus, on Saturday posted 66,528 new cases, a record for a 24-hour period, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The country has now recorded a total of 3,242,073 infections, the Baltimore-based university said in its latest data as of 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Sunday).

The death toll stood at 134,729 with 760 additional deaths counted. — AFP

July 11, 2020 - 4:53pm

The Department of Health reports 1,387 additional cases of the coronavirus disease, bringing the total number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines to 54,222.

There are 807 new recoveries and 12 new deaths.

July 11, 2020 - 1:15pm

The United States records 63,643 new coronavirus cases, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

As of 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Saturday), 774 people died of COVID-19 in the country in the past 24 hours, the Baltimore-based university says. 

The worst-hit country in the world by the pandemic, the US has recorded a total of 133,969 deaths out of 3.18 million cases. — AFP

July 11, 2020 - 9:23am

The US welcomes the World Health Organization's probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus in China, its ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva says.

"We welcome the WHO's investigation. We view the scientific investigation as a necessary step to having a complete and transparent understanding of how this virus has spread throughout the world," ambassador Andrew Bremberg tells reporters.

It was an unexpected endorsement, given that the WHO has faced fierce US criticism over its handling of the coronavirus crisis. — AFP

July 10, 2020 - 4:54pm

The Department of Health reports 1,233 new cases of the coronavirus disease, bringing the total infection count in the Philippines to 52,914.

There are 286 new recoveries and 42 more deaths. 

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