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May 23, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic accelerates in Sub-continent, Russia, Latin America

Top Story

 
May 23, 2020

NEW DELHI: The coronavirus pandemic accelerated across Latin America, Russia and the Indian subcontinent on Friday even as curves flattened and reopening was underway in much of Europe, Asia and the United States, foreign media reported.

The pandemic has killed at least 338,666 people worldwide since it surfaced in China late last year. There have been 5,280,000 officially recorded cases in 196 countries and territories. The United States has recorded the most deaths at 97,482. It is followed by Britain with 36,393, Italy with 32,616, France with 28,289 and Spain with 28,628.

Many governments — even those where the virus is still on the rise — say they have to shift their focus to saving jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the disease can spread. In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring.

The Federal Reserve chairman has estimated that up to one American in four could be jobless, while in China analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.

But the virus is roaring through countries ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, which many scientists fear will seed the embers of a second global wave.

India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in the cities. For over a month, some walked among crowds for hundreds of miles.

Latin America’s two most populous nations — Mexico and Brazil — have reported record counts of new cases and deaths almost daily this week, fueling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in attempts to limit economic damage.

Cases were rising and intensive-care units were also swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador — countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

Brazil reported more than 20,000 deaths and 300,000 confirmed cases Thursday night — the third worst-hit country in the world in terms of infection by official counts. Experts consider both numbers undercounts due to widespread lack of testing.

President Jair Bolsonaro has scoffed at the seriousness of the virus and actively campaigned against state governors’ attempts to limit movement and commerce.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed the threat for weeks as he continued to travel the country after Mexico’s first confirmed case. He insisted that Mexico was different, that its strong family bonds and work ethic would pull it through.

The country is now reporting more than 400 deaths a day, and new infections still haven’t peaked.

Armando Sepulveda, a mausoleum manager in suburban Mexico City, said his burial and cremation business has doubled in recent weeks.

Meanwhile Mexico’s government has shifted its attention to reactivating the economy. Mining, construction and parts of the North American automotive supply chain were allowed to resume operations this week.

Russian health officials registered 150 deaths in 24 hours, for a total of 3,249. Many outside Russia have suggested the country is manipulating its statistics to show a comparatively low death rate. The total confirmed number of cases exceeded 326,000 on Friday.

The governor of the German region of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, suggested that his country could bring in Russian patients, as it has those from European Union countries as a gesture of “solidarity.”

China announced it would give local governments two trillion yuan (Rs44,996 billion) to help undo the damage from shutdowns imposed to curb the spread of the virus that first appeared in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has now infected at least 5.1 million people worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The Bank of Japan said it would provide $280 billion (Rs44,996) in zero-interest, unsecured loans to banks for financing small and medium-size businesses.

Nearly 39 million Americans have lost their jobs since the crisis accelerated two months ago.

States from coast to coast are gradually reopening their economies and letting people return to work, but more than 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week alone.

Much of the country remains unlikely to venture out to bars, restaurants, theaters or gyms anytime soon, despite state and local officials across the country increasingly allowing businesses to reopen, according to a new survey.

That hesitancy could muffle any recovery from what has been the sharpest and swiftest economic downturn in US history — comparable only to the Great Depression almost 90 years ago.

In an eerie echo of famous Depression-era images, US cities are authorising homeless tent encampments, including San Francisco, where about 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near city hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week.

European countries also have seen heavy job losses, but robust government safety-net programmes in places like Germany and France are subsidising the wages of millions of workers and keeping them on the payroll. Tourism, a major income generator for Europe, has become a flashpoint as countries debate whether to quarantine new arrivals this summer for the virus’s two-week maximum incubation period.

Spain’s National Statistics Institute published its tourism report Friday showing columns of zeros for overnight stays, average length of stays and occupancy rates in April. Spain is Europe’s second most popular tourist destination, after France, and an economic recovery without visitors is all but unthinkable.