Global infections from the novel coronavirus passed five million on Thursday as the pandemic played out unevenly across the planet, with China eager to declare a victory, Europe tentatively emerging from its shell and deaths still rising in hotspots in Latin America.
The grim milestone comes after known cases of COVID-19 doubled in just one month, according to AFP data collected from official sources, with the death toll now topping 328,220 worldwide.
At least 5,012,630 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 1,854,900 are now considered recovered.
The United States remains the country with the highest number of deaths overall with 93,439 from 1,551,853 cases. At least 294,312 people have been declared recovered.
After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Britain with 35,704 deaths from 248,293 cases, Italy with 32,330 from 227,364 cases, France at 28,132 deaths and 181,575 cases, and Spain (27,888 and 232,555).
Europe overall has 169,932 deaths from 1,955,600 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 33,945 deaths from 612,891 cases, Asia 13,158 deaths from 399,080 cases, the Middle East 8,486 deaths from 309,107 cases, Africa, 2,996 deaths from 95,533 cases, and Oceania 128 deaths from 8,426 cases.
While many hard-hit European countries have significantly turned the tide on new infections and fatalities, Latin America is in the grip of an infection surge.
Brazil is leading the pack, logging the third-highest number of cases in the world after the US and Russia.
Peru, Mexico and Chile have also seen steady increases in infections, with nurses in Lima warning that the health system is on the brink of collapse after cases and deaths tripled over the past three weeks.
In Brazil, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro continues to scorn experts’ advice on curbing the contagion as he presses regional governors to end stay-at-home measures.
And like US president Donald Trump, he has promoted the use of anti-malaria drugs against the virus despite studies showing they have no benefit and could have dangerous side effects.
Trump, for his part, insists the US is ‘Transitioning back to Greatness’ as states reopen at different speeds.
His optimism cut a sharp contrast with the bleak health situation in the country, which leads the world in cases and deaths.
On the economic front, the latest figures out of the US showed the rate of unemployment slowing — but the total number of jobs lost since mid-March stood at an eye-watering 38.6 million.
Trump, who is desperate to boost his political fortunes ahead of November elections, has also doubled down on his finger-pointing at China, who he blamed for ‘this mass Worldwide killing’.
Beijing tells a different story, with president Xi Jinping determined to project a narrative of strength and success in reining in the outbreak that first emerged in his country late last year before wreaking havoc around the globe.
Though China has faced criticism of its initial handling of the virus, the country has since brought domestic cases down to a trickle and kept deaths at a far lower toll than in the worst-hit countries, according to its official figures.
In the latest symbol of normalisation, on Thursday China opened its biggest political event of the year — the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — after months of delay over coronavirus fears.
Analysts say the gathering will be a chance for the party to reaffirm its narrative of beating the virus and coming to the aid of other countries with masks and other medical shipments.
It ‘will likely be an occasion for Xi Jinping to declare complete victory in the ‘people’s war’ over the virus’, Diana Fu, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said.
As governments pray for an end to the economic strangulation from shutdowns, the race to develop a vaccine has been buoyed by experiments on monkeys that offered hope that humans can develop immunity to the virus.
The US also pumped an additional $1 billion into the British pharmaceuticals group AstraZeneca to help fund the production of a vaccine.
In the meantime, many countries are testing ways to live with the dangers in the interim.
In Spain, which is emerging from one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, face masks have been made mandatory for anyone aged six and over in public where social distancing is not possible.
With many other European countries also gradually awakening from lockdowns, the economic collapse in the eurozone has ‘likely bottomed out’ with the rate of decline now easing as economies creak open, according to a survey by IHS Markit.
Elsewhere, Cyprus bounded into its second stage of de-confinement Thursday, lifting curfews and allowing outdoor restaurants, barber shops and beaches to open on the Mediterranean island, though airports and hotels remain closed.
In reopened cafes, customers were seated outdoors with spacing between tables, while some ate with plastic face shields still on.
New Zealanders also relished a return to pubs.
Yet some fear lockdowns are loosening too fast in places like Tanzania, whose government announced it would resume university life and sporting events on June 1 even as the US embassy warned virus was spreading exponentially in the East African nation.
And in Asia, some experiments in adjusting to the new normal have gone awry.
Not everyone was amused in Singapore by a yellow robot dog deployed to patrol a city park and monitor social distancing.
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