US, Europe battle fresh virus surges

Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The US is battling a resurgence of coronavirus cases in a number of states including Texas, while the World Health Organisation has warned that several European countries are also facing dangerous upticks.

The pandemic — which has claimed more than 480,000 lives around the world — continued to cause havoc in Latin America.

Brazil, the hardest-hit country in the region, had close to 55,000 deaths and 1.2m infections, while Mexico on Thursday passed 25,000 fatalities.

In the US, after hitting a two-month plateau, the rate of new cases is now soaring in the south and west, with the confirmed infection rate nearing levels last seen in April.

Texas was among the most aggressive states in reopening in early June.

Republican governor Greg Abbott had been confident that Texas had escaped the worst of the US outbreak.

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

Abbott was forced on Thursday to halt the state’s phased reopening and moved to free up hospital beds.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” said Abbott, an ally of President Donald Trump, who has faced stark criticism for his handling of the crisis.

“This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread.”

Twenty-nine states are now facing a rebound in cases.

Experts blame a patchwork of responses at the official level, the politicisation of face masks and physical distancing, and the widespread onset of “quarantine fatigue” among restless Americans.

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

They say the demographics of the outbreak are changing as younger people engage in riskier behaviour out of a desire to return to their pre-pandemic “normal”.

The joyous reopening of tourist sites and beaches all over Europe has been tempered by a new warning that Europe is not yet in the clear.

WHO regional director Hans Kluge warned that in 11 nations “accelerated transmission has led to a very significant resurgence that if left unchecked will push health systems to the brink once again in Europe”.

Governments are still struggling to balance the public health needs of fighting a virus that has infected at least 9.5m people with the devastating global economic impact.

There was more grim news for the world’s airlines, with Australia’s Qantas announcing it was cutting 6,000 staff and Germany’s Lufthansa moving closer to a $10bn (R172.7bn) state rescue when the plan was approved by the European Union.

The International Monetary Fund is the latest to quantify the economic harm, predicting that global GDP will plunge by 4.9% in 2020 and wipe out $12-trillion over two years.