US, Europe battle fresh virus surges
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: December 2, 2020 - 4:13pm

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

December 2, 2020 - 4:13pm

The Department of Health reports 1,438 additional cases of the coronavirus disease, bringing the total number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines to 434,357.

Of these, 26,916 are active cases. There are 18 new fatalities and 232 more recoveries.

December 2, 2020 - 10:44am

Johns Hopkins University says the United States, the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and in the throes of a surge in cases, registered more than 2,500 deaths in a 24-hour period, the highest total since late April.

More than 180,000 new infections were recorded, according to real-time data provided by the Baltimore-based university at 8:30 pm (0130 GMT Wednesday).

The last time the daily death toll was higher than Tuesday's total of 2,562 was in late April, at the height of the pandemic's first wave. — AFP

December 1, 2020 - 9:45pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,468,873 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Tuesday.

At least 63,227,470 cases have been registered. Of these, at least 40,255,800 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

December 1, 2020 - 4:06pm

The Department of Health reports 1,298 additional cases of the coronavirus disease. This brings the national tall to 32,925.

To date, there are 25,725 active. The health department registers 27 new deaths and 135 more recoveries.

December 1, 2020 - 2:02pm

The UN says that $35 billion would be needed for aid in 2021, as the pandemic leaves tens of millions more people in crisis, and with the risk of multiple famines looming.

The world body's annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 235 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year -- a staggering 40-percent increase in the past year.

"The increase arises almost entirely because of Covid-19," United Nations emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock says. — AFP 

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