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US, Europe battle resurgence of COVID-19 cases

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Members of a coronavirus testing station stand on the factory premises of the Westfleisch meat processing company in Hamm, western Germany, on May 10, 2020, — AFP/Ina Fassbender/Files

WASHINGTON: The United States and Europe battled a resurgence of coronavirus cases as warnings mounted worldwide Friday over reopening lockdowns too soon.

A major Australian city also faced a dangerous uptick in infections, leading to national steps against toilet paper hoarding, while the pandemic also continues to pummel Latin America.

More than 480,000 people worldwide have died from COVID-19 since it emerged in China late last year and cases are expected to reach 10 million across the globe within the next week.

Countries have been balancing the need to reopen economies shattered by coronavirus shutdowns with the need to maintain sufficient measures to prevent a feared second wave.

'Corral the spread'

In the United States, after hitting a two-month plateau, the rate of new cases is now soaring in southern and western states, with the confirmed infection rate nearing levels last seen in April.

Texas was among the most aggressive states in reopening in early June but has now been forced to halt its phased reopening.

"The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," said Republican Governor Greg Abbott, an ally of President Donald Trump, who has faced sharp criticism for his handling of the crisis. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread."

The United States recorded 37,667 cases and 692 deaths in 24 hours, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly 122,000 lives lost overall — by far the highest confirmed toll in the world.

US health officials now believe based on antibody surveys that some 24 million people may have already been infected — 10 times higher than the officially recorded figure of around 2.4 million.

In Latin America, Brazil, the hardest-hit country in the region, had close to 55,000 deaths and 1.2 million infections, while Mexico on Thursday surpassed 25,000 fatalities.

Pushed 'to the brink'

In Britain — which has the worst death toll in Europe so far with 43,230 lives lost — people were urged to abide by social distancing rules after tens of thousands of people descended on beaches during a heatwave.

The seaside resort of Bournemouth declared a major incident on Thursday after thousands flocked to its beach on the hottest day of the year.

Police also criticised the number of fans who gathered outside Liverpool's Anfield ground on Thursday night after the club secured the English Premier League football title for the first time in 30 years.

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"I do think we have to appeal to people to be careful here," environment minister George Eustice said.

Ukraine meanwhile reported a record daily increase in coronavirus cases as authorities warned lockdowns may have to be re-imposed if people continued to flout restrictions.

Health authorities recorded 1,109 new coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours, bringing Ukraine's total to more than 41,000.

"People have ceased to comply with restrictions," Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said.

The World Health Organization warned on Thursday that Europe is not yet in the clear, saying 11 nations faced a "very significant resurgence that if left unchecked will push health systems to the brink once again.

'Stop it, it's ridiculous'

In Australia, supermarkets imposed purchase limits on toilet paper across the country Friday following panic buying by people rattled over a surge in coronavirus cases in Melbourne, the country's second-biggest city.

"Stop it, it's ridiculous," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told his compatriots

He insisted the country's so far successful containment was not threatened by the 30 new cases confirmed overnight in Melbourne, the 10th straight day of double-digit rises in new cases in the city and surrounding Victoria state.

The early stages of coronavirus lockdowns in many countries were marked by the panic buying of toilet paper and other supplies.

However the pressure to reopen badly-hit economies and limit what promises to be a historic global recession remains immense.

European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde said Friday that the economy has "probably passed the lowest point", with Europe in particular reopening.

She warned however that the new normal will look different from what was before and that "of course there could a severe second wave if we learn anything from the Spanish Flu" of 1918-19.

Vietnam's prime minister meanwhile warned Southeast Asian leaders that the virus pandemic had "swept away" years of economic gains in the tourism- and export-reliant region.

Airlines have also suffered, with the Dutch government announcing a 3.4 billion euro bailout for Air France-KLM, Australia's Qantas announcing it was cutting 6,000 staff and Germany's Lufthansa getting the EU's green light for a $10 billion state rescue.

The world meanwhile awaits a vaccine or treatment that authorities say is likely to take until at least early next year and probably longer.


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