US passes 200,000 virus deaths as spread quickens worldwide

WASHINGTON • US has passed 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, as a record-breaking wave of new infections forces authorities in Europe to re-impose lockdown restrictions.

The world’s most powerful nation hit the figure just 41 days before a presidential election, and as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that new cases worldwide have risen to record highs.

US President Donald Trump — who faces a tough re-election fight and trailing Democrat candidate Joe Biden in the polls — said the 200,000 milestone was “a shame” and deflected blame onto China.

Trump used a video address to the annual United Nations (UN) General Assembly to attack Beijing for not stopping the spread of what he called the “China virus”.

“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world — China,”

he told the UN’s diplomatic showcase event, which is being held almost entirely online because of the pandemic.

Trump has repeatedly played down the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis, even as the US has suffered one of the world’s highest death tolls.

According to an AFP tally, more than 31 million people have been infected worldwide and nearly 962,000 have died from Covid-19 since the virus emerged in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The WHO reported late on Monday that almost two million infections were recorded around the globe in the single week to Sept 20.

The 6% increase versus the previous week is “the highest number of reported cases in a single week since the beginning of the epidemic”,theUNhealthagencysaid.

In Europe, a surge forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce fresh steps to try to allay the rising death toll.

“To help contain the virus, office workers who can work effectively from home should do so,” the government said, despite fears of a devastating economic impact.

New rules come into force for pubs and other hospitality venues today and plans to allow fans back into sporting events have been ditched.

Several Premier League football players have tested positive, sending them into isolation and forcing games to be postponed.

Johnson warned that the new restrictions could last up to six months and called for a collective effort to “get through this winter together”.

His scientific advisors said the UK could see a devastating 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-

October if no action is taken. “Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our behaviour,” said Johnson, who like Trump has been widely criticised for his handling of the pandemic.

Even with citizens weary of months of social distancing and previously unthinkable restrictions on their lives, hundreds of millions face harsher measures to come.

After months of brutal lockdown was eased, Spain’s health minister on Tuesday called on Madrid residents to limit their movements and social contact to the “essential”. Some 850,000 people in a part of the Madrid region are now again under lockdown.

Across Europe, hundreds of major events have been scaled back or cancelled.

For the first time since 1944, the most august of all gatherings, the Nobel prize ceremony, will not take place as normal in Stock- holm this year, and will instead be televised.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway in December will also be scaled back.

Austria Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told AFP that fighting the pandemic remained “a very big challenge”, as his country extended mandatory face masks wearing and re-instated some restrictions imposed earlier this year.

“I am still relatively young, but I have been part of the Austrian government for many years and I thought I had already been through a lot politically,” the 34-year-old conservative leader said in an interview.

“The corona crisis now exceeds all previous experiences of course.” — AFP