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.


UK’s Raab says unacceptable for Russian intelligence services to target COVID-19 work

Updated 25 min 15 sec ago

UK’s Raab says unacceptable for Russian intelligence services to target COVID-19 work

  • Raab’s comments come after Britain also accused Russia on Thursday of trying to interfere in its 2019 general election

LONDON: British foreign minister Dominic Raab on Thursday said it was completely unacceptable for Russian intelligence services to target research on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” Raab said, following a joint statement by British Canadian and US cybersecurity services.

“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.

“The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyberattacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account.”

Raab’s comments come after Britain also accused Russia on Thursday of trying to interfere in its 2019 general election by illicitly acquiring sensitive documents relating to a planned free trade agreement with Washington and leaking them online.

In response, a senior Russian lawmaker said the allegations were “anti-Russian nonsense” and undermined UK-Russia relations.