Coronavirus deaths top 150,000 in worst-hit US
WASHINGTON- Agence France-Presse
The United States marked a grim milestone on July 29 when its coronavirus deaths topped 150,000 - far exceeding the toll in any other pandemic-hit nation.
Brazil is second to the U.S. in terms of cases and fatalities, and also reported a sobering figure as it surpassed 90,000 deaths.
Nations around the globe, even those that believed they had largely curbed the disease, are seeing a rise in cases that are damaging economies and forcing protection measures that have disrupted all aspects of life.
The sacred hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has begun with some 10,000 Muslim faithful allowed, instead of the roughly 2.5 million that attended last year.
Pilgrims were brought in small batches into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, walking along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls inside its walls.
Even with efforts in place to contain the virus, it has killed more than 660,000 people around the world and total infections are approaching 17 million.
But politicians in Europe and North America - among the worst-hit regions - are still struggling to frame a coherent response.
While U.S. President Donald Trump sought to link a spike in cases to protests in some cities, leaders in Congress conceded late on Tuesday they were still far from a deal to support the world’s leading economy.
Democrats had proposed a $3 trillion aid package and Republicans this week put forward a $1 trillion deal - but many in their own party disagree on principle with such spending.
In Europe, where several countries have slapped restrictions on travel to and from Spain, officials are ramping up a spat over the seriousness of the current outbreak.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh from announcing quarantine for travelers returning from Spain, suggested the rest of Europe could be facing a second wave - despite his own country’s dismal figures.
France’s health minister hit back on Wednesday, saying his country was categorically not in a second wave.
"Clusters are emerging, we have warning signs from certain hospitals that have seen a trend of increasing admission," Olivier Veran said, adding: "We are testing a lot more."
Spain, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, insists it is a safe destination and was critical of Britain’s blanket quarantine, which includes islands without significant outbreaks.
The blizzard of alarming data continued too in east Asia, with China seeing a three-month high of 101 new virus cases on Wednesday because of a localized outbreak in the northern port city of Dalian.
Officials blamed contaminated packaging on imported seafood - similar reasons have been offered to explain previous Chinese outbreaks.
Further south, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam warned the financial hub was facing a "large-scale community outbreak" that could lead to a "collapse of our hospital system".
From Wednesday, all residents in the densely packed city of 7.5 million must wear masks outdoors and restaurants can only serve takeaway meals, in a blow for diners during the city’s hot and humid summer.
"It’s so hot outside now, 10 minutes after I start work, my shirt is all sweaty," a construction worker told AFP as he tucked into a pork chop, admitting he missed air-conditioned restaurants.
While some labor in the heat to make a living, others have been inspired to take action for their communities.
One Indian businessman has converted his office into an 85-bed facility to provide free treatment for the poor.
Kadar Shaikh spent 20 days in a private clinic being treated for the virus last month and was horrified by the bill.
"How could poor people afford such treatment?" the property developer told AFP. "So I decided to do something and contribute to the fight against the deadly virus."