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US death toll soars as global virus cases top 19 million

August 7, 2020 12:22 PM

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Daily coronavirus deaths in the US surged to a three-month high of over 2,000 on Thursday and the number of cases passed 19 million globally, pushing many nations to further ratchet up restrictions in the battle against the pandemic.

The world's hardest-hit country, the United States, has seen a major coronavirus resurgence since the end of June, adding 2,060 deaths in 24 hours alone Thursday, a tracker by Johns Hopkins University showed.

But other corners of the globe were also marking grim milestones, with Mexico's official toll soaring above 50,000 dead and the continent of Africa hitting one million confirmed cases.

More than half of Africa's infections are in South Africa, which has the fifth-highest number of infections in the world, after the US, Brazil, India and Russia.

Nevertheless, the African continent remains one of the least affected, according to the official figures, with only Oceania registering fewer COVID-19 cases.

At least 19,000,553 cases and 712,315 deaths have been registered worldwide, figures compiled by AFP from official sources at 2300 GMT showed, driven by surges in Latin America and India.

The United States has recorded the most deaths with almost 160,000, followed by Brazil with nearly 100,000. Globally, 40 percent of all cases have been notched in the two countries.

Europe remains the hardest-hit region worldwide with more than 200,000 fatalities since the virus first emerged in China late last year.

As governments across the globe struggle to salvage economies ravaged by months of lockdown, many have been forced to look at new measures to curb outbreaks of COVID-19 since they lifted initial containment orders.

Such is the case in Europe where nations imposed new travel restrictions and containment measures with fears growing over a second wave of infections.

In Australia, the second-largest city Melbourne entered the country's toughest lockdown yet on Thursday, closing non-essential businesses and requiring hundreds of thousands more people to stay home.

- Travel restrictions -

Germany is the latest to introduce mandatory tests for travelers returning from designated risk zones, starting on Saturday, as fears grow over rising case numbers blamed on summer holidays and local outbreaks.

Germany's list of "risk zones" currently includes most non-EU countries, as well as certain provinces in Belgium and Spain. 

Neighboring Austria on Thursday announced it would issue a travel warning for mainland Spain, becoming the latest country to do so amid a rise in new coronavirus cases in the fellow EU member.

Finland also introduced new controls on arrivals from some EU countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Andorra, putting a stop to tourists arriving from there and imposing a 14-day quarantine on other returnees.

"The situation is extremely delicate," the health ministry's strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki said, adding that "some sort of second stage has begun."

Britain has reimposed quarantine for travelers from Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas.

Norway announced Thursday that France would be considered a red zone due to the resurgence of coronavirus cases there, meaning all travellers arriving from France face a mandatory ten-day quarantine. 

Switzerland, Monaco and the Czech Republic were also hit with similar restrictions, as well as two Swedish regions, the Norwegian foreign affairs ministry said.

"The infectious situation can change quickly, as can the restrictions," Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said.

The United States bucked the trend despite its own soaring death toll, lifting a blanket warning against all foreign travel.

"Health and safety conditions (are) improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others," the State Department said in a statement.

- Business struggles -

Many nations are seeing new outbreaks, forcing local or citywide lockdowns and other quarantine measures.

Poland will re-impose compulsory face masks in all public spaces in nine districts amid a new high in infections.

The restrictions will come into force from Saturday and will also affect sports and cultural events in those areas, mainly in the south and east.

Greece's government on Wednesday announced a "wake-up week" on COVID-19, tightening restrictions after the steady rise in mostly domestic infections.

Officials have blamed the increase on overcrowding in clubs and social events.

The new virus outbreaks are forcing officials into an uncomfortable trade-off between public health and the need to bring economies back to life.

German airline Lufthansa on Thursday became the latest to reveal the fallout from the pandemic, announcing forced layoffs and a 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) loss in the second quarter, the worst in its history. 

 Africa surpasses million cases

 Coronavirus has now infected more than a million people in Africa, but hopes that the pandemic may be peaking in some countries are also leavened by fear of a second wave.

Nations across the continent have recorded 1,000,054 infections and at least 21,724 deaths, accounting for around five percent of global cases, according to an AFP tally as of Thursday.

Just five countries account for 75 percent of all cases in Africa, the continent's health watchdog, the Africa Centres for Diseases Control, says.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday some countries have recently seen declines of around 20 percent in daily cases but it was too early to confirm this as a trend, while around 10 countries are still experiencing increases.

Countries with high infections relative to the size of their populations are South Africa, Djibouti, Gabon, Cape Verde  and Sao Tome and Principe.

Here is an overview of key countries:

- Egypt - 

Egypt became the first African country to report a coronavirus case on February 14. So far, it has officially registered the continent's second highest number of cases, with 95,000, including 4,630 deaths.

Numbers of daily new infections have recently been falling steadily. From an average of 1,500 previously, new cases plunged below 200 this week.

Jihane al-Assal, who heads the government's anti-coronavirus scientific panel, told a TV talk show "Egypt has passed the peak of the pandemic".

At the weekend she announced the gradual closure of isolation hospitals, while assuring that the government was "preparing" for a potential second wave of the pandemic.

However, the country's health system has been severely strained and came close to "collapsing", according to the doctors' union, which recorded at least 134 deaths among its members due to COVID-19.

- Nigeria -

Around 45,000 cases have been recorded in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, and more than 900 deaths.

In June, the daily caseload rose by between 500 and 800 but latterly has dropped to between 300 and 400.

Authorities say they are also gearing for a likely second wave as restrictions are eased. 

"New rise in cases are to be expected," said the chief of the presidential task force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha.

Nigeria carries out only 3,000 tests per day, about a tenth of the number in South Africa, which has a much smaller population of 58 million.

- Algeria -

Algerians spent a bleak Eid el Adha festival under a strict lockdown that discouraged family visits and banned movement into or out of 29 of the country's 48 wilayas (prefectures).

The nation is the fifth worst-hit in Africa in terms of infections -- a surge in the past few weeks has brought the total to over 33,000.

Algeria has the continent's third-highest number of fatalities at 1,273, after South Africa and Egypt.

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the country's economy, which is also facing the collapse of fossil-fuel prices.

- Ethiopia - 

Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, has seen a sharp upward trend with infections doubling in less than three weeks in July.

It has so far recorded more than 20,000 cases and over 365 deaths.

The figures are small relative to a population of 110 million, but the WHO frets unrest sparked by the killing of a pop star from the Oromo ethnic group could further accelerate transmission.

- Zimbabwe -

Zimbabwe is among the countries where daily infections are steadily rising: numbers of diagnosed cases doubled over 10 days last month and now stand at 4,200, including 81 fatalities.

The impoverished country is in a particularly precarious position. 

The health system is struggling with shortages of basic drugs and equipment, as well as an overburdened and underpaid staff.

Mexico's deaths surpass 50,000

Mexico on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 50,000 coronavirus deaths, far more than the worst-case estimates of the government, which faces criticism of its handling of the crisis and the economic fallout.

The country has the world's third-highest fatality toll from the disease, behind only the United States and Brazil.

The health ministry announced 819 more deaths in its daily update, taking the total to 50,517 since the Latin American nation's first case was detected in February.

The overall number of infections registered now stands at 462,690 in the nation of more than 128 million.

"Unfortunately, because it is always unfortunate even if it was only one, we have 50,517 deaths from COVID-19 in Mexico," deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell told a news conference.

When it comes to deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, Mexico is in 13th place worldwide, based on official data.

The death toll far exceeds the range of between 6,000 and 30,000 projected by the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in February.

Britain reimposes quarantine for travellers from Belgium, Bahamas

Britain on Thursday reimposed quarantine for travellers from Andorra, Belgium and the Bahamas following a spike in coronavirus cases in these countries.

"People arriving in England from Andorra, Belgium and the Bahamas from 4:00 am Saturday August 8  will need to self-isolate for two weeks," the transport ministry said in a statement, about a month after lifting these measures. 

"There has been a consistent increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population in Belgium since the middle of July, with a fourfold increase in total cases over this time period. 

"In Andorra, new cases per week have increased 5-fold over the same time period, while in the Bahamas the weekly case rate peaked at 78.6 last week, up from 3.1 in mid-July," it said. 

The Scottish government later tweeted that the three countries were being removed from its "quarantine exemption list".

Brunei and Malaysia have been added to the corridors of both England and Scotland from August 11 after being assessed as posing a lower infection risk.    

With over 46,000 deaths due to COVID-19 disease, the United Kingdom is the country in Europe most affected by the pandemic and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been strongly criticised over his handling of the crisis.

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