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May 20, 2020

Coronavirus global death toll crosses 323,000

Top Story

May 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Coronavirus has killed at least 323,119 people worldwide since it surfaced in China late last year, according to international media reports.

The United States has recorded the most deaths at 92,689. It is followed by Britain with 35,341, Italy with 32,169, France with28,239 and Spain with 27,709. The number of infections, according to latest reports, is nearing the five million mark and has reached 4,954,999.

As the coronavirus outbreak eases in Western Europe and parts of the US, cases are rising steadily in Russia in a crisis that has damaged President Vladimir Putin’s standing and stirred suspicion that the true death toll in the country is being concealed.

Russia is now behind only the United States in the number of reported infections. Cases are also spiking in such places as India, South Africa and Mexico.

On Tuesday, new hot spots emerged in Russia, and the country recorded nearly 9,300 new infections in 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000, about half of them in Moscow. Authorities say over 2,800 people with COVID-19 have died in Russia, a figure some say is surely higher.

Some experts argue Russian authorities have been listing chronic illnesses as the cause of death for many who tested positive for the virus. Officials angrily deny manipulating statistics, saying Russia’s low death toll reflects early preventive measures and broad screening. Nearly 7.4 million tests have been conducted in the country of 147 million people.

In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, a virus hot spot, all burials now must be with closed coffins as a precaution, irrespective of the cause of death. Previously the measure applied only to COVID-19 deaths. The country’s prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, resumed work Tuesday after a bout with the disease.

Putin’s approval ratings sank last month to 59 percent, the lowest in the two decades he has been in power, Russia’s independent pollster Levada Center reported. The plunge reflects growing mistrust and uncertainty among Russians, Levada said.

Putin has declared that a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March helped slow the outbreak and prevented the health care system from being overwhelmed. A week ago, he ended the nationwide lockdown, giving Russia’s 85 regions a free hand to ease their restrictions. But some have been struggling.

The mostly Muslim province of Dagestan has reported a spike in infections that left its hospitals overflowing. The Kremlin has been accused of sending mixed messages.

“On one hand, Putin wanted people to stay home and observe lockdown restrictions, so Russians were being told about the dangers of the coronavirus,” said former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Gallyamov. “On the other hand, the president didn’t want the situation to look too alarming. ... So Russians were also being told that it’s not that bad.”

The surges come as much of Asia, Europe and many US states have been easing lockdowns to restart their economies as new infections wane. US autoworkers, French teachers and Thai mall workers are among hundreds of thousands of employees back at work with new safety precautions.

Cases are still rising across Africa, where all 54 nations have seen confirmed infections for a total of over 88,000 cases and 2,800 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa has the highest number of cases at over 16,400, with nearly 290 deaths. Infections have increased dramatically in Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, which now accounts for 61 percent of South Africa’s total.

Latin America has seen more than 480,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 31,000 dead. The highest number of cases is in Brazil, which became the world’s third worst-hit country Monday with more than 250,000 infections despite limited testing. Hospital officials reported that more than 85 percent of intensive care beds are occupied in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Some countries have seen encouraging signs reverse: Iran reported a steady drop in new infections through April, only to see them rise again in May.

The total number of COVID-19 pandemic cases crossed the 100,000-mark in India on Tuesday, reaching 106,468, as the death toll rose to 3,301.

As many as 145 new deaths were reported Tuesday, besides fresh 6,140 positive cases. Iran on Tuesday reported no new coronavirus deaths in nearly a third of its provinces for 24 hours but said there were more than another 2,100 cases of infection nationwide.

The virus spread rapidly to all 31 of Iran´s provinces soon after the country´s first cases -- two deaths in the holy city of Qom -- were announced three months ago. "Ten provinces have reported zero deaths in the past 24 hours and six others only one," said health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour.

The southwestern province of Khuzestan was still classified as "red" -- the highest level on the country´s colour-coded risk scale, he said. But the situation was "stable" in most other provinces, Jahanpour told a televised news conference.

Jerusalem´s Al-Aqsa mosque will reopen to worshippers after the Eid holiday, a statement from its governing body said Tuesday, two months after closing due to the coronavirus.

"The council decided to lift the suspension on worshippers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eidul Fitr holiday," a statement from the Waqf organisation said, referring to the three-day holiday expected to begin this weekend.

Islam´s third holiest site was closed in late March for the first time in more than 50 years as part of measures across the globe to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. The mosque´s director, Omar al-Kiswani, said he hoped for no restrictions on the number of worshippers but said the governing body would announce the exact "mechanisms and measures later."

He said the details would be worked out to "ensure we are not subjected to criticism on the pretext we have broken health rules." The mosque compound, which lies in Jerusalem´s Old City, has often been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, Canada and the United States agreed to extend a ban on non-essential travel between the two nations by another 30 days as part of the fight against the coronavirus, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

US and Canadian officials had said last week it was likely that the measure would be rolled over until June 21. The ban does not cover trade across a border that stretches 5,525 miles.

“This is an important decision that will keep people in both of our countries safe,” Trudeau told a daily briefing. The ban, initially introduced in mid-March, had already been extended in April until May 21.