NEW YORK: Bodies are moved to a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue at Wyckoff Hospital in the Borough of Brooklyn in New York. — AFP

MIAMI: The United States has surpassed 2.5 million coronavirus cases, as efforts to reopen the world’s economic powerhouse were dramatically set back by a surge of new infections in states such as Florida. Infections are also up in some other parts of the world that have reopened, and the public health realities pushed global Pride celebrations largely online Saturday, 50 years after the first march for LGBT rights in New York. The US leads the world in COVID-19 cases by far, accounting for well over a third of the global total of nearly 9.9 million since the virus emerged late last year in China.

On Saturday alone the US recorded more than 43,000 new cases, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. US deaths now exceed 125,000, approximately one-fourth the world total of over 495,000. The tension between reopening battered economies – efforts pushed in the US by President Donald Trump – and public health is a source of debate in nearly every country. In Iran, which has struggled to curb its outbreak even as it gradually lifted restrictions from April, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “something must be done” to prevent coronavirus causing economic issues.

“But in the case of negligence and significant spread of the disease, economic problems will increase, too,” he said.  The EU on Saturday pushed back a decision on a list of “safe countries” from which travellers can visit Europe – a list which could exclude the US. Meanwhile stars including Coldplay, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson lent support to a European Commission-led drive that raised 6.15 billion euros ($6.9 billion) to support vaccine research and help make it available to poorer countries. Some of those countries are still far from reaching their peak in infections, authorities say.

In the Middle East, the governor of Bethlehem announced that the Palestinian city would temporarily close due to rising infections. While in India, densely populated cities have been particularly hard hit. The country set a daily record Saturday with 18,500 new cases and 385 deaths. Total infections are at 509,000, with more than 15,600 deaths. The disease also continues to rampage through Latin America, with Peru surpassing 9,000 deaths in total on Saturday. Brazil – the second hardest-hit country in the world after the US – recorded 990 deaths on Saturday, the highest in the world that day, while Mexico recorded the second highest, 719.

‘Explosion’ in Florida

In Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has conceded there has been an “explosion” in new cases. On Saturday the “Sunshine State” notched 9,585 cases in 24 hours, a new daily record. The average age of people infected has dropped sharply – to 33 from 65 two months ago. Young people frustrated by months of confinement have poured back to the state’s beaches, boardwalks and bars, often without masks and seemingly unconcerned about social distancing.

Miami announced beaches will close over the July 4 holiday weekend. Bars are also closing. Georgia, Nevada and South Carolina also reported new daily record cases on Saturday, while Arizona broke its record for hospitalizations. With Trump struggling to lift his re-election bid off the ground ahead of November, the campaign confirmed that events featuring Vice President Mike Pence in Arizona and Florida next week have been postponed “out of an abundance of caution.”

Trump had faced a backlash after insisting on a rally in Oklahoma despite virus concerns one week ago. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered some areas to reinstate stay-at-home orders, while San Francisco announced a “pause” in its reopening. Texas also shut down its bars. Governor Greg Abbott, another Republican who resisted lockdowns, said Friday that if he could “go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars.” Texas was among the first US states to reopen. 

Global Pride

Fifty years on from the first Gay Pride march, the LGBT community and their supporters took many of their events online Saturday for Global Pride, a 24-hour online event broadcast live. There were some small marches, such as in Mexico City, where some 200 people defied quarantine to progress along Reforma, the city’s main avenue.  The virus has also thrown world sports into turmoil. Pakistan’s cricket board announced Saturday it would leave 10 players off its tour of England after they tested positive.

Global cases

Meanwhile, global coronavirus cases neared 10 million yesterday according to a Reuters tally, marking a major milestone in the spread of the respiratory disease that has so far killed almost half a million people in seven months. The figure is roughly double the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

The milestone will come as many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns while making extensive alterations to work and social life that could last for a year or more until a vaccine is available. Some countries are experiencing a resurgence in infections, leading authorities to partially reinstate lockdowns, in what experts say could be a recurring pattern in the coming months and into 2021. North America, Latin America and Europe each account for around 25% of cases, while Asia and the Middle East have around 11% and 9% respectively, according to the Reuters tally, which uses government reports.

There have been more than 497,000 fatalities linked to the disease so far, roughly the same as the number of influenza deaths reported annually. The first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed on Jan. 10 in Wuhan in China, before infections and fatalities surged in Europe, then the United States, and later Russia. The pandemic has now entered a new phase, with India and Brazil battling outbreaks of over 10,000 cases a day, putting a major strain on resources.

The two countries accounted for over a third of all new cases in the past week. Brazil reported a record 54,700 new cases on June 19. Some researchers said the death toll in Latin America could rise to over 380,000 by October, from around 100,000 this week. The total number of cases continued to increase at a rate of between 1-2% a day in the past week, down from rates above 10% in March. Countries including China, New Zealand and Australia have seen new outbreaks in the past month, despite largely quashing local transmission.

In Beijing, where hundreds of new cases were linked to an agricultural market, testing capacity has been ramped up to 300,000 a day. The United States, which has reported the most cases of any country at more than 2.5 million, managed to slow the spread of the virus in May, only to see it expand in recent weeks to rural areas and other places that were previously unaffected. In some countries with limited testing capabilities, case numbers reflect a small proportion of total infections. Roughly half of reported infections are known to have recovered. — Agencies