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AFP
July 3, 2020

Virus infections hit record highs in swelling pandemic

World

AFP
July 3, 2020

LOS ANGELES: Global coronavirus infections have hit record highs as the United States and Brazil battle the world´s deadliest outbreaks while new clusters around the planet test fragile gains in containing the disease.

The pandemic is accelerating with more than half of the world´s infections over the past half year recorded in June alone, according to the World Heath Organisation. And the past week has seen new highs with cases topping "160,000 on every single day," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Touching almost every country on earth, Covid-19 has infected at least 10.7 million people and claimed some 516,000 lives as it upends ordinary and economic life in unprecedented ways. In the worst-hit United States new infections soared past 50,000 for the first time on Wednesday in a new grim milestone.

Rising cases have seen US states from California to Florida shutter restaurants, bars and beaches as the nation braces for July 4 Independence Day festivities.

Several states have also mandated 14-day quarantines on visitors in the buildup to the holiday weekend celebrations. Worldwide travel is similarly patchy as the European Union opened its borders to some 15 nations but not the US, Brazil and Russia and others hosting dangerous outbreaks.

President Donald Trump, under fire for his handling of a crisis that has killed some 128,000 Americans, lept on positive jobs data that showed 4.8 million people were back to work in June. "I´d like to just announce the spectacular news for American workers and for American families and our country as whole," Trump said.

Yet the new business closures in some states in late June could jeopardise the gains. The crisis is also ravaging parts of Latin America, particularly Brazil where more than 60,000 have died. Colombia, the fourth largest economy on the continent, has surpassed the 100,000 infection mark.

In Peru, an indigenous leader who fought for the land rights of Amazonian communities, Santiago Manuin, succumbed to the respiratory disease on Wednesday, according to his family. "Many people have died, the community is holding vigils and burying them. The government has forgotten about us," said his daughter Luz Angelica Manui.

Indigenous people across Latin America have been hit hard by the disease due to weakened immune systems and centuries of state neglect. The Pan American Health Organisation estimates that at least 20,000 people are infected in the Amazon River basin, where some areas are only accessible by boat.

The health body has also warned that the death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean could quadruple to more than 400,000 by October without stricter public health measures. In the European Union, where many infection rates have been brought down from their peak, countries are trying to safely revive a struggling tourism sector by opening borders to 14 countries ranging from Algeria to Uruguay.

Travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will also be allowed to enter the EU if Beijing reciprocates.

In Spain, which has managed to keep the virus in check since emerging from its long and painful lockdown, applause erupted as the last six Covid-19 patients left a Barcelona hotel that had been converted into a medical centre. "It´s been emotional," said Hugo Figueroa, 45, a mid-level manager standing at reception.