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Worldwide death toll from COVID-19 approaches 400,000

Photo: AFP

Worldwide death toll from  COVID-19 neared 400,000 on Sunday as countries in South American continued to report a record rise in deaths from the virus. 

Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll but President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the World Health Organization (WHO) over “ideological bias”, following the example of the United States.

Bolsonaro is among those arguing that the economic damage lockdowns are causing is worse than the virus itself — and the oil industry has been hit particularly hard.

The cartel of oil-producing nations OPEC agreed on Saturday to extend an April deal to cut production through July, aiming to foster a recovery in oil prices after they were pummelled by slumps in demand caused by virus restrictions.

National governments are also increasingly focused on repairing the economic damage — even hard-hit European countries are now opening their borders and allowing people to return to work.

However, the search for a treatment for the virus still appears a long way from success.

Late on Friday, a study from Oxford University based on clinical trials concluded that hydroxychloroquine — a malaria drug championed as a treatment by Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump — showed “no beneficial effect” in treating COVID-19.

US ‘largely through’ 

The new coronavirus has killed more than 397,000 people and infected 6.8 million globally, the worst health crisis in more than a century that has tipped the global economy into a crushing downturn and forced tens of millions out of work in the United States alone.

The US is the world’s hardest-hit nation, with over 109,000 dead and nearly 1.9 million infections.

However, Trump said the economy was bouncing back.

“We had the greatest economy in the history of the world. And that strength let us get through this horrible pandemic, largely through, I think we’re doing really well,” he told reporters.

Trump, who is facing re-election in November, reiterated his calls to further ease stay-at-home measures, after surprisingly upbeat employment numbers showed the country gained 2.5 million jobs in May.

In a sign of a slow return to normality in the US, Universal Orlando became the first of the giant theme parks in Florida to reopen — albeit with temperature tests at the entrance and mandatory face masks.

The South Pacific island of French Polynesia also said it would reopen to international travel next month to try to salvage its vital tourism industry.

“We are no longer in a health emergency, but we are facing an economic and social emergency,” said Tourism and Employment Minister Nicole Bouteau.

EU to reopen borders 

In Europe, badly-hit countries slowly continued on a path toward a post-pandemic normal, also seeking to revive key tourist sectors in time for the summer season.

The European Union said it could reopen borders to travellers from outside the region in early July, after some countries within the bloc reopened to European visitors.

A major Spanish tourism draw, Madrid’s Prado museum, reopened its doors to a handful of visitors on Saturday, putting together more than 200 masterpieces in a new exhibition.

In France, the Palace of Versailles also reopened, but without the US and Chinese tourists that usually make up a third of its visitors.

A top French expert said on Friday that dramatic drops in daily deaths and new cases in the country since their March peaks meant the worst was over.

“We can reasonably say the virus is currently under control,” said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the head of the government’s scientific advisory council.

Still, bleak numbers streamed in from Latin America.

Brazil’s death toll passed 35,000 as Bolsonaro echoed criticism of the WHO by Trump, who has said the US will defund the organisation because it is too close to China.

“I’m telling you right now, the United States left the WHO, and we’re studying that, in the future. Either the WHO works without ideological bias, or we leave, too,” the far-right leader told journalists.

Tolls are also rising sharply in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador. And in Chile, deaths have risen by more than 50 percent in the past week.

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