Virus cases hit 7m as Latin America crisis deepens

SANTIAGO • The number of coronavirus infections globally topped seven million yesterday as deaths mounted in Latin America, but New Zealand’s declaration of victory against the pandemic offered some hope for the rest of the world.

Europe also continued to emerge from its lockdown, with Pope Francis proclaiming that the worst was over in Italy although he expressed sympathy for Latin America.

“Your presence in the square is a sign that in Italy the acute phase of the epidemic is over,” Francis said on Sunday while addressing Catholics in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican for the first time since the Covid-19 crisis began.

“Unfortunately in other countries — I am thinking of some of them — the virus continues to claim many victims.”

Rising numbers of deaths were recorded from Brazil to Mexico to Peru, driving the confirmed global death toll above 400,000 (at press time) and the number of declared infections over seven million, according to an AFP tally.

Brazil’s crisis is escalating and it has the world’s third-highest death toll at more than 36,000, but President Jair Bolsonaro continues to play down the impact of the virus.

In Chile, the confirmed death toll reached 2,290 after miscalculations from March and April were corrected, adding 1,541 to the figure, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said on Sunday.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region there was progress, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern telling reporters she danced around her living room on hearing her country had reached the milestone of zero active infections.

The South Pacific nation lifted all domestic restrictions yesterday after it went 17 days with no new infections.

This allowed New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to announce a restart to a top-flight domestic competition this week, with fans allowed to pack into the stadiums.

“We’re incredibly proud, and grateful, to be the first professional sports competition in the world to have our teams play in front of their fans again,” NZR chief Mark Robinson said

Thailand also hit a positive milestone after two weeks with no local infections. The only recorded cases came from overseas arrivals that were quarantined.

The kingdom was the first country outside China to officially report a Covid-19 case in January, but it has largely escaped the high tolls seen elsewhere in the region, with just 58 deaths (at press time).

Fears that large parts of Asia could still have the worst in front of them persist, however, with the death toll and infection rate climbing sharply in India.

Still, after a 10-week lockdown, the government is risking lifting some curbs to ease the devastating impacts on the economy, and malls and temples reopened in several Indian cities yesterday.

In Europe, countries are slowly working towards a post-pandemic normal and trying to revive tourism sectors in time for the summer peak season.

Britain said it would reopen places of worship for individual prayer on June 15, but also yesterday began imposing a two-week quarantine period for most arrivals into the country — a move that prompted legal action by airlines. — AFP