US coronavirus deaths surpass Vietnam War toll as Florida readies reopening plan

Protesters demanding Florida businesses and government reopen, march in downtown Orlando on April 17, 2020. (AP file photo)
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Updated 29 April 2020

US coronavirus deaths surpass Vietnam War toll as Florida readies reopening plan

  • Florida would become the most populous of about a dozen states forging ahead with economic reopenings

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: The US coronavirus death toll climbed above 58,000 on Tuesday, surpassing the loss of American life from the Vietnam War, as Florida’s governor met with President Donald Trump to discuss an easing of economic restraints.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, among the latest to lock down his state against the pandemic, has been weighing whether to join other states in a relaxation of workplace restrictions and stay-at-home orders that have been credited with slowing the contagion but which have battered the economy.
DeSantis’ meeting at the White House came as Florida reported its highest single-day death toll from the coronavirus, and two days before Florida’s stay-at-home order was due to expire.
Speaking to reporters with Trump in the Oval Office, DeSantis said he would announce a plan on Wednesday for a “phase one” loosening of restrictions on economic activity.
Declining to give details, DeSantis called the plan a “small step,” adding, “we’re going to approach it in a very measured, thoughtful and data-driven way.”
Despite a high proportion of elderly residents, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, and having waited until early April to lock down its economy, Florida has averted the worst of the health crisis seen in other states such as New York and New Jersey.
Still, Florida would become the most populous of about a dozen states forging ahead with economic reopenings despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and the means to trace close contacts of newly infected individuals, as recommended in White House guidelines on April 16.
Public health experts have warned that a premature rollback of social-distancing policies could trigger a resurgence of infections just when those restrictions are showing signs of bringing the outbreak under control.
While DeSantis’ state has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, Florida reported a record 83 new deaths and more than 700 new infections from the previous 24 hours on Tuesday. The state has so far tallied 32,846 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, including 1,171 deaths.
DeSantis has drawn sharp criticism of his handling of the health crisis from Democrats in Florida, a key electoral swing state in Trump’s Nov. 3 re-election bid.
“Apparently Trump and DeSantis find it appropriate to slap each other on the back while Floridians struggle to stay safe during this pandemic and navigate a broken unemployment system,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said.
Economic fallout from the unprecedented clamp-down on social interactions and business has been devastating.
The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits over the past five weeks has soared to 26.5 million — nearly one in six US workers — and the Trump administration has forecast an April unemployment rate exceeding 16 percent.
The larger human toll has likewise been staggering. As of Tuesday, 58,605 have died of COVID-19 in the United States, according to a Reuters tally, eclipsing in a few months the total number of Americans killed during 16 years of US military involvement in Vietnam.
The number of known US coronavirus infections has doubled over the past 18 days to more than 1 million. The actual count is believed to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials have limited testing capacity, leaving many infections unrecorded.
As further evidence that caution may still be in order, an influential University of Washington research model often cited by White House officials and public health officials revised its projected US coronavirus death toll upwards on Tuesday to more than 74,000 by Aug. 4, against its previous forecast of 67,000.


HK media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

Updated 10 August 2020

HK media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

  • Lai has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested over suspected collusion with foreign forces under the new national security law, his top aide said on Twitter, in what is the highest-profile arrest yet under the legislation.
Lai has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing, which imposed the sweeping new law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.
The new security law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Critics say it crushes freedoms in the semiautonomous city, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged pro-democracy protests last year.
“Jimmy Lai is being arrested for collusion with foreign powers at this time,” Mark Simon, a senior executive at Lai’s media company Next Digital, which publishes local tabloid Apple Daily, said early on Monday.
Police did not immediately comment.
Lai was also arrested this year on illegal assembly charges, along with other leading activists, relating to protests last year.
In an interview with Reuters in May, Lai pledged to stay in Hong Kong and continue to fight for democracy even though he expected to be one of the targets of the new legislation.