New record number of COVID-19 cases overshadows US Independence Day festivities

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he boars Air Force One prior to departing from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on July 3, 2020, as they travel to view Independence Day fireworks at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)
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Updated 04 July 2020

New record number of COVID-19 cases overshadows US Independence Day festivities

  • More than 57,000 infections recorded in 24 hours; COVID-19 has claimed 130,000 lives in the US
  • Trump dismisses deluge of new cases as "great news", says "our testing is so massive and so good"

WASHINGTON: Another record number of coronavirus cases overshadowed the start of America’s Independence Day weekend Friday as the surge in infections prompted Britain to blacklist travelers from the US, intensifying its isolation.

With beaches closed from coast to coast and officials urging Americans to stay home, the somber mood heading into what is usually a weekend of barbecues and sunshine underscored the struggle to extinguish COVID-19 at the epicenter of the global pandemic.

“It is an unbelievable trajectory,” said Faisal Masud, director of critical care at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, which officials say is dangerously close to being overwhelmed.

Touching almost every country on Earth since it emerged in China late last year, the coronavirus has infected at least 10.9 million and killed 522,000 globally, shattering previously buoyant economies and bringing public life to a standstill.

But while Europe and much of Asia have largely managed to bring the virus under control — so much so that England was preparing to reopen pubs, restaurants and cinemas — in the US it has claimed nearly 130,000 lives amid a sharp resurgence of cases which top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said “puts the entire country at risk.”

The world’s largest economy broke its record for new cases for the third day in a row Friday, with more than 57,000 infections in 24 hours. It’s expected to record its three millionth infection next week, with cases rising the south and west particularly.

US President Donald Trump — at Mount Rushmore for a fireworks celebration with thousands of attendees in close quarters and masks not required — has so far dismissed the deluge of new cases.

In a tweet late Thursday he said the rise was because “our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country,” calling that “great news.”

He added: “Even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN.”

But his predecessor Barack Obama called for Americans to be “safe and smart.”

“It’s going to take all of us to beat this virus. So wear a mask. Wash your hands. And listen to the experts, not the folks trying to divide us,” he tweeted Friday.

The World Health Organization called on countries hit by serious outbreaks to “wake up” to the realities.

“People need to wake up. The data is not lying,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told journalists in Geneva.

“It is never too late in an epidemic to take control.”

At least 14 states are seeing their weekly averages hit record highs heading into the holiday weekend, the Washington Post reported.

In Florida, where new cases are hovering at around 10,000 daily, Miami’s usually-crowded South Pointe Beach was closed Friday save for patrolling police and a wandering cat.

Beaches in Los Angeles will also be closed over the weekend, and Major League Baseball officially canceled its 2020 All-Star Game on Friday, the first time since World War II that the mid-season showcase — which had been set for July 14 — has been scrapped.

The US closures stand in stark contrast to Britain and Europe, once the epicenter of the virus but now restarting businesses and lifting travel restrictions, trying salvage the summer tourist season.

Pubs in England reopen on Saturday for the first time since late March — as restaurants, cinemas, galleries, museums and hotels also prepare to welcome back customers.

Travelers arriving into England from more than 50 nations — but not the US or mainland China — will from July 10 no longer be required to undergo 14 days of self-isolation.

The decision follows the European Union, which earlier this week left the US, Brazil and Russia off its final list of nations safe enough to allow their residents to enter its borders.

The European Union meanwhile authorized the use of the anti-viral drug remdesivir for COVID-19 — the first treatment approved to deal with the disease — although the United States has bought most of the global stock.

Europe is also beginning a reckoning on its virus response. French prosecutors said they were launching an inquiry into former prime minister Edouard Philippe’s handling of the virus crisis, following his resignation Friday.

But despite optimism the economic fallout is still unfolding: Air France said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Cases have been skyrocketing across Latin America.

The region now has the second most cases in the world with 2.73 million, ahead of Europe on 2.71 million but behind North America.

Brazil, the region’s largest economy, has 1.5 million confirmed cases and 63,000 deaths, second only to the United States.

Nevertheless, popular tourist city Rio de Janeiro authorized bars, restaurants and cafes to reopen at 50 percent capacity, while President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday watered down a law requiring the wearing of face masks in public places.

Cases also continue to surge in the Middle East, where worst-hit Saudi Arabia passed 200,000 infections. Countries across Africa meanwhile forged ahead with plans to reopen, despite steadily rising cases.

In Asia, however, swift lockdowns have largely made progress — including in Beijing, which said Friday it was lifting most travel restrictions after successfully containing a new outbreak.

China also vowed to gradually phase out the slaughter and sale of live poultry at food markets.

The virus is believed to have emerged at a market that sold live animals in the central city of Wuhan late last year.


Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.