US registers millionth case as pandemic lockdowns ease

WASHINGTON • The US on Tuesday recorded its one-millionth coronavirus case as countries including Spain, Russia and Nigeria took tentative steps back towards normal life by preparing to reopen some businesses.

Excitement over partial easing of the lockdowns affecting more than half of humanity has been tempered by fear of new outbreaks and growing evidence of the economic devastation wreaked by the Covid- 19 pandemic.

The US — where millions of jobs have gone — reached another grim milestone as it registered 59,266 deaths (at press time), a larger loss of life than recorded by the US military in the Vietnam War.

The overall US case load rose to 1,035,765 (at press time) in a public health disaster that could threaten US President Donald Trump’s re-election chances. But some countries have reported falling infection numbers, and governments have begun to chart their way out of the shutdowns.

France said on Tuesday that shops, markets and selected schools could reopen next month, with face masks required on public transport and work-from-home orders staying in place for several more weeks.

Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe admitted even a gradual return to normal life was “risky”.

Spain said restrictions would be slowly lifted over the next two months, while Italians will be able to exercise outdoors and visit relatives from next week — but only if they wear masks and refrain from hugs and handshakes.

Italy, Spain and France have been the worst affected countries in Europe, with each reporting more than 23,000 deaths.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin warned that the peak of coronavirus infections still lay ahead, saying “the situation remains very difficult”. But he said lockdown measures could be eased from next month.

Data on infection rates has shown mixed results in Germany, which is being closely watched after allowing some shops to reopen last week.

“We all need to take care that we don’t end up with more infections,” said Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

Experts have warned of a second wave of contagion if restrictions are lifted too hastily, and the World Health Organisation has said reinfection may be possible even among recovered patients.

In Nigeria’s largest city Lagos, bus driver Taju Olonade told AFP a decision to ease the lockdown showed that authorities had finally listened “to the cries of the people”.

“For almost one month I have not earned a penny,” he said. “I hope life will soon return to normal.”

The US, which on Tuesday recorded a further 2,207 deaths in 24 hours, has seen by far the highest number of fatalities.

Trump has increasingly sought to blame China, but China pushed back fiercely on Tuesday, accusing US politicians of “barefaced lies”.

“They have only one objective: Shirk their responsibility for their own poor epidemic prevention and control measures,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters. — AFP