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Saturday December 04, 2021

US virus death toll passes 250,000, NY closes schools

By AFP
November 20, 2020

New York: US coronavirus deaths passed a quarter of a million people on Thursday as New York announced it would close schools to battle a rise in infections and anti-restriction protests in Europe turned violent.

America has now registered 250,426 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest reported national death toll. US states and cities were imposing a raft of new restrictions, including home confinement, the closure of indoor dining and a limit on gatherings as cases soar across the country, with more than 157,950 new infections recorded over the past 24 hours on Wednesday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s 1,800 public schools would revert to remote learning beginning Thursday after the Big Apple recorded a seven-day average positivity rate of three percent. "We must fight back the second wave of Covid-19," he said.

The toughened measures in America’s most-populous city came despite pharma giant Pfizer boosting hopes of a possible end to the pandemic by announcing improved results for its vaccine.

Europe meanwhile remains the hardest-hit region, accounting for 46 percent of new global cases and 49 percent of deaths last week, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Its figures additionally showed the only region where cases and deaths declined last week was Southeast Asia. Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have died of Covid-19 and over 55 million have been reported infected with the virus since it first surfaced in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

In Switzerland, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, the Swiss Society for Intensive Care Medicine (SSMI) warned that intensive care units "are practically all full."More beds have been added, and the Swiss military has been called in to support efforts in several areas.

Meanwhile, officials in India’s capital on Thursday quadrupled the fines dished out for people not wearing face masks as coronavirus cases soar in the megacity, overwhelming hospitals and graveyards even as the government resists calls for another lockdown.

The penalty hike to 2,000 rupees ($27) announced by New Delhi’s chief minister came as India’s total coronavirus caseload neared nine million, the second-highest in the world. "At times when words alone don’t do the trick, we have to get a bit tougher," chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told a news conference, also tweeting that the city of 20 million was on a "war footing". India imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March, but the restrictions dealt a severe blow to the economy and the government has since eased restrictions.

Few people wear masks -- particularly outside major cities -- and in recent weeks shoppers have thronged markets in preparations for a series of religious festivals. In Delhi, almost 500,000 people have been fined since June for not wearing masks, 370,000 for ignoring social distancing rules and 3,500 for spitting. This week the number of cases in the metropolis passed half a million, with a record rise in daily cases and deaths.

Over 90 percent of Delhi intensive case beds with ventilators were occupied as on Thursday, a government mobile app showed.

The problem has been exacerbated by choking haze and pollution which grips the city this time each year. "My father’s oxygen saturation level dipped... and we rushed to the nearby hospital but there were no beds available," Delhi resident Rajeev Nigam told AFP.

"We ran all night from one hospital to another but it was the same story everywhere," he said, attacking the "unprepared" city government which is working to increase the number of hospital beds.

Kejriwal this week announced that the number of guests at weddings would be cut to 50 and asked the central government for authority to close down markets if they become virus "hotspots". "I only have space left for about 50-60 burials. Then what? I have no idea," Mohammed Shamim, a gravedigger at one of Delhi’s biggest cemeteries, told AFP.