Virus deaths top 250,000 amid vaccine push

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 00:00 |
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to pupils when he visited Pierre Ronsard elementary school in Paris, yesterday. France has resorted to partial lifting of restrictions such as opening of schools. Photo/AFP

Washington, Tuesday

The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped a quarter of a million on Tuesday, with the US government predicting a further surge in fatalities as an international vaccine drive garnered $8 billion in pledges.

The dire forecast from the United States came as much of the Western world emerged from weeks of lockdown, with hopes that the disease may have peaked in Europe after nearly two months of confinement.

Financial markets saw a light at the end of a tunnel as businesses in Europe and the United States tentatively reopened, and stocks and oil prices rallied Tuesday.

But the global progress did little to cool a war of words between the US and China —fuelled by American claims the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, a theory the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled “speculative.”

Since the disease first surfaced in China late last year, the number of confirmed cases has reached more than 3.6 million while fatalities have topped 252,000.

Europe remains the hardest-hit continent with around 145,000 deaths while the US has recorded close to 68,700, the biggest single-country toll.

The bleak figures were compounded Monday by an internal government estimate in Washington that forecast the Covid-19 infection rate in the US could surge eight-fold to 200,000 a day by June 1, and the daily death toll could rise to 3,000.

Domestic violence

Russia has emerged as a new coronavirus hotspot. It is now the European country reporting the highest number of new infections, with a total of over 155,000 cases.

“The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has warned, urging residents to respect confinement rules in the capital. 

The lockdown has however had one worrying impact—reported cases of domestic violence in Russia have more than doubled.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s biggest state Bavaria said it would allow restaurants to open from mid-May, with pressure growing on Chancellor Angela Merkel to ease stay-at-home measures that have plunged the economy into a deep recession.

As the race is on to find a way to stamp out the virus, a special telethon backed by the WHO but snubbed by Washington pulled in $8.1 billion to support international efforts to develop a vaccine.

“This was a powerful and inspiring demonstration of global solidarity,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The White House has stepped up an offensive against China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying there is “enormous evidence” the virus emerged in a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

That claim was rejected Monday by the WHO as well as top US epidemiologist and government adviser Anthony Fauci.

“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that (this virus) evolved in nature and then jumped species,” he said.

In India, police had to wade in to separate people jostling to buy alcohol for the first time in 40 days as the world’s biggest lockdown eased.

New Delhi said it has also embarked on a “massive” operation involving naval ships and aircraft to bring back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals stuck in the Maldives and United Arab Emirates.

Hong Kong announced plans to ease major social distancing measures. And in a ray of hope for the sports world, South Korea’s baseball players returned to action, albeit to empty stadiums. -AFP

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