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June 1, 2020

World virus cases top 6.2m as leaders disagree on pandemic response

ISLAMABAD: The number of coronavirus cases worldwide topped 6.2 million on Sunday as Brazil registered another record surge in daily infections and divisions deepened on how to deal with the pandemic.

Latin American countries are bracing for difficult weeks ahead as the virus spreads rapidly across the region. This contrasts to other parts of the world where the pace has eased and permitted a cautious exit from lockdowns that have wrecked economies and stripped millions of their jobs.

In Brazil -- the epicentre of South America´s outbreak with over 500,000 confirmed cases -- disagreement among its leaders over lockdown measures has hampered efforts to slow a virus that has cost nearly 30,000 lives.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who fears the economic fallout from stay-at-home orders will be worse than the virus, has berated governors and mayors for imposing what he calls "the tyranny of total quarantine."

Even as his country surpassed France to have the world´s fourth-highest death toll, Bolsonaro called for Brazil´s football season to resume. Fellow right-wing populist US President Donald Trump meanwhile came under fire for permanently cutting funding to the World Health Organisation.

Trump accused the WHO of not doing enough to curb the early spread of the virus and being too lenient with China, where the COVID-19 disease emerged late last year. It is a major blow for the UN´s health agency -- the US is by far its biggest contributor -- at a time when it needs funding the most.

The European Union called on the US president to reconsider, calling for international solidarity during the crisis. The pandemic has killed over 372,500 people worldwide, according to international media reports.

As the virus progresses at different speeds around the globe, there has been pressure to lift crippling lockdowns, despite the lack of a vaccine and experts warning of a possible second wave of infections.

In Britain, which recorded 960 new deaths on Saturday ahead of starting to lift its lockdown today (Monday), senior advisers to the government warned that it was moving too quickly. "COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England," tweeted Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government´s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

South Africa will also reopen its economy today, the continent´s hardest-hit country moving to level three of a five-tier lockdown. India announced it would begin relaxing the world´s biggest lockdown in stages from early June, even as it marked another record daily rise in infections.

The world´s faithful have been slowly re-congregating as countries such as Iran and Turkey in recent days have allowed mosques to reopen under strict conditions. Some good news turned sour in China, where the first flight carrying Europeans arrived on Saturday since the country suspended visas in late March.

Just a day later, Chinese authorities said a German engineer on the flight had tested positive for coronavirus as an asymptomatic carrier. With infection numbers falling in many of Europe´s most affected countries, restrictions are being steadily eased.

Parks opened in Paris on the weekend for the first time in months, ahead of restaurants, cafes and bars reopening on sidewalks and terraces on Tuesday. "Paris needs to support its restaurants and bars. They are the heart of our city," Mayor Anne Hidalgo said, as some restaurants jumped the gun by opening early, with police largely turning a blind eye.

Across the Atlantic, the US capital Washington also resumed outdoor dining, while on the West Coast, restaurants and hair salons in Los Angeles reopened. New York City, the worst-hit American city with about 21,500 coronavirus deaths, is on track to begin reopening the week of June 8.

The overall US death toll has topped 105,000 out of more than 1.8 million cases. Global sport has also started to kick back into action, with Britain approving the return of domestic competitive sport today -- with no fans present. And fans returned to football stadiums in Hungary on the weekend, a European first.

"We are only worried if we win or lose, not about the epidemic," said 41-year-old football fan Gabor Lengyel. But the economic damage from weeks of lockdowns continues to pile up, with India, Canada, Brazil, France and Italy registering shrinking GDP figures in the first quarter ahead of an expected worldwide recession.

Further illustrating the difficulty of restarting economies, official data on Sunday showed that factory activity in China expanded at a slowed pace in May. As the virus hits the world´s poor particularly hard, Pope Francis called for a "more just and equitable society" in the post-coronavirus world and for people to act to "end the pandemic of poverty."

"Without food donations, I´ll have to fight harder for my family to survive," said motorcycle taxi driver Thanapat Noidee in the tiny hut he shares with his wife and children in Bangkok.