Coronavirus tolls surge in Americas as Europe re-opens

The urgency to find a coronavirus vaccine is underlined by ballooning death tolls in South America. (AP)
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Updated 29 May 2020

Coronavirus tolls surge in Americas as Europe re-opens

  • Grim figures from the Americas accompanied by the growing economic fallout
  • Populations are learning to adjust to life with the long-term threat of infection

WASHINGTON: The death toll from the coronavirus spiked again in the United States, and Latin America’s pandemic crisis deepened, as Europe’s re-opening from lockdown grew bolder by the day.
Grim figures from the Americas were accompanied by the growing economic fallout, with the number of people filing unemployment claims in the US reaching 40 million, and Brazil shedding five million jobs.
But Europe pressed on with efforts to return to normality, with the English Premier League and Italy’s Serie A unveiling plans to resume play.
Populations are learning to adjust to life with the long-term threat of infection as the virus continues its march around the globe and a vaccine remains elusive.
Pharmaceutical firm bosses expressed optimism a jab could be rolled out by year’s end but warned of “daunting” challenges in producing the 15 billion doses needed to curb the pandemic.
Well over 100 labs around the world are scrambling to come up with a vaccine, including 10 candidates that have made it to the clinical trial stage.
“If things go well, and the stars are aligned, we will have enough evidence of safety and efficacy so that we can... have a vaccine around the end of October,” said Pfizer boss Albert Bourla.
The urgency was underlined by ballooning death tolls in South America, increasingly the new focus of the pandemic, where Brazil recorded more than 1,000 fatalities and a national one-day record for infections.
Chile also logged a record daily death toll Thursday and in Peru total fatalities topped 4,000.
With limited sanitation and little space for social distancing, millions of people in slums across the region cannot take basic precautions recommended by health authorities and have little to fall back on when lockdowns destroy jobs.
“We are construction workers, people who sell things, people who go out every day. With confinement everything has changed for most of us. We find ourselves without any work,” Oscar Gonzalez, a 43-year-old welder in the deprived Brisas del Sol area of Santiago, said.
Seeking to stem the bleeding, Europe has been carefully moving ahead with the lifting of restrictions on daily life, with France set to reopen bars, restaurants and museums next week and Britain sending children back to school over the next two weeks.
“Freedom will be the rule and restrictions the exception,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
Elsewhere in Europe, Spaniards were revisiting old joys as life gets back on track — with people seen belting out tunes from classic movie “Grease” at a 1950s-themed drive-in theater in Madrid.
“It gives you a real sense of freedom. We really wanted to get out of the house,” said 22-year-old Belen Perez.
Spain will allow 70 percent of the population to go to restaurants, swimming pools and shopping centers from next week.
Globally the death toll is nearing 360,000 and almost 5.8 million people have been confirmed as infected since the virus emerged in China late last year.
The United States has now seen over 101,000 deaths from the disease.
“To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!” President Donald Trump tweeted.
The US capital Washington will slowly move into its phase one of reopening on Friday as more parts of the country open up the economy, sometimes against the advice of health experts.


France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

Updated 53 min 48 sec ago

France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

PARIS: Nurses in white coats replaced uniformed soldiers as stars of France’s Bastille Day ceremonies Tuesday as the usual grandiose military parade was recalibrated to honor medics who died fighting COVID-19, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and other heroes of the pandemic.
With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, medical workers stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde in central Paris from President Emmanuel Macron, the head of the World Health Organization and 2,000 other guests. A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolor flag across the plaza.
For some, the national homage is not nearly enough to make up for the equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across France, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Activists sent a banner above the ceremony tied to balloons reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
This year’s commemoration also paid homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
But the battle against the virus was the main focus of the official event in central Paris, as Macron sought to highlight France’s successes in combating its worst crisis since World War II. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-and-red smoke, and were joined by helicopters that had transported COVID-19 patients in distress.
Macron called the ceremony “the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation” and “the symbol of our resilience.”
The guests included nurses, doctors, supermarket and nursing home workers, mask makers, lab technicians, undertakers and others who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown. Families of medical workers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.
“Exceptionally, this year, our armies ... will cede the primary place to the women and men in hospital coats who fought” the virus and who remain “ramparts in the crisis,” Macron said.
It was a Bastille Day unlike any other, as medics in jeans or sandals strolled onto the plaza for the climax of the ceremony, and the lengthy military parade was truncated into a smaller affair closed to the public to prevent new virus infections.
Masks were ubiquitous. Troops sported them as they got in formation, took them off for the ceremony, then put them on again when it was over. Macron made a point of donning his before speaking to WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters plan to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic. Among those expected to demonstrate are medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best health care systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
The destination of their protest march wasn’t chosen by chance: They’re set to head to Bastille plaza, the former home of a royal prison that rebels stormed on July 14, 1789, symbolically marking the beginning of the French Revolution.
Tensions already erupted Monday night on the eve of the holiday, as troublemakers set off firecrackers and set a bus, a gym and dozens of vehicles on fire in the Paris region, according to the fire service.
Tuesday’s annual fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower will be largely restricted to television viewers only, since City Hall is closing off the heart of Paris, including embankments of the Seine and other neighborhoods where crowds usually gather on Bastille Day.
France has one of the world’s highest virus death tolls, and scientists are warning of a potential resurgence as people abandon social distancing practices, hold dance parties and head off on summer vacations.