Global deaths from the coronavirus pandemic topped a quarter-million on Monday, mostly in the US and Europe even as both regions slowly moved away from lockdown and world leaders raised billions towards a vaccine.
An AFP tally of official figures showed that Europe is the hardest-hit continent with around 145,000 fatalities, and the United States recorded close to 68,700 — together accounting for more than 85 percent of global fatalities.
An internal government estimate in Washington forecast an even worsening number of fatalities for the country. It said the daily COVID-19 death toll could double by the end of May.
In Europe, though, governments believe they have passed the peak of the disease with deaths in the continent’s worst-affected countries having dropped as a result of nearly two months of confinement.
Restaurants in Italy partially reopened and Germans queued for haircuts in a Europe edging gingerly out of lockdown.
Half of the planet has been under orders to shelter in place, and much of the world remained cautious even as countries from India to Nigeria sought to ease restrictions so that businesses can remain afloat and workers earn a wage after the pandemic-induced economic crash.
“Today is wonderful,” Lagos fruit and vegetable vendor Adewale Oluwa said, opening his stall in Africa’s largest city after a five-week lockdown.
– Russia infections surge –
Still, confirmed cases since the disease surfaced in China late last year rose to almost 3.6 million across 195 countries and territories.
Infections continued to surge in Russia, now adding more than 10,000 a day.
“The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin told citizens.
But the United States remains far more severely affected than any other nation, although deaths in the past 24 hours rose by the lowest figure in a month — 1,015.
An internal study by the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that new coronavirus cases will surge more than eight-fold to 200,000 per day by June 1, and the toll could rise to 3,000 a day, up from the current 1,000-2,000.
That could more than double the number of US coronavirus deaths, now at about 69,000, over the next few months, according to the study first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
It underscored the tough, politically-tinged debate over reopening that pits Trump and his allies against many governors and community leaders worried that social distancing and quarantines need to remain in place longer.
The study suggested that the surge in infections could come from mid-May in states and localities that had not implemented tough distancing measures or were loosening up too early.
The White House downplayed the CDC forecast as an “internal” document which had not been vetted by the task force, which is led by Vice President Mike Pence.
– ‘Joy and fear’ –
In Europe there was still caution as countries allowed people to return to the streets and some businesses to open.
“We are feeling a mix of joy and fear,” 40-year-old Stefano Milano said in Rome as Italian restaurants reopened for takeaway orders — though bars and ice cream parlours will remain shut.
Spain and Portugal made face masks mandatory on public transport starting Monday as they further eased their lockdowns.
Slovenia, Poland and Hungary also allowed public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.
“I looked like Robinson Crusoe,” joked 87-year-old Helmut Wichter, emerging clean-shaven from a barber in Berlin.
– Vaccine telethon –
A special telethon backed by the World Health Organization but snubbed by Washington pulled in 7.4 billion euros ($8.1 billion) to support international efforts to develop and manufacture a vaccine to slow the coronavirus spread.
Leaders of major European powers, Japan and Canada made the biggest pledges, along with philanthropists including Bill and Melinda Gates, at the videoconference hosted by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
“This was a powerful and inspiring demonstration of global solidarity,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said of the donations.
Seeming to defend its non-participation, the US State Department issued a statement declaring that the United States is “leading” the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and said it has spent more than $1 billion together with US drug companies to work on a vaccine.
Trump claimed Sunday that the United States will have a coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of the year.
The war of words between the United States and China over responsibility for the pandemic continued, with China’s state broadcaster attacking US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for “insane” remarks in which he said the virus originated at a laboratory in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic first emerged.
The WHO said it had received no evidence on the “speculative” Wuhan lab claims.