US president Donald Trump said he is severing ties with the World Health Organisation over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as the death toll from the disease spiked again in the United States and Brazil.
The virus, which has killed at least 364,362 people and devastated the global economy, is progressing at different speeds across the globe, with Europe continuing to open up from lockdown on Saturday after seeing its number of infections steadily fall.
At least 5,931,510 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. At least 2,455,400 of these are considered recovered.
The United States is the worst-hit country with 102,836 deaths from 1,747,087 cases. At least 406,446 people have been declared recovered.
After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Britain with 38,161 deaths from 271,222 cases, Italy with 33,229 deaths from 232,248 cases, France with 28,714 deaths and 186,797 cases.
India announced on Saturday a major relaxation of the world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown from early June, except for so-called ‘containment zones’ with high numbers of infections.
A home ministry order said that places of religious worship, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls ‘will be allowed’ to operate from June 8, while educational establishments will be opened ‘after consultations’ with Indian state authorities.
The announcement came even after the world’s second-most populous country announced another record daily rise in infections, taking the total to more than 85,000 cases with almost 5,000 deaths.
Italy’s iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa reopened, while Parisians flocked to parks open for the first time in months.
But countries in Latin America are bracing for difficult weeks ahead, especially Brazil, where the death toll shot up by 1,124 on Friday and there was a record number of new infections.
The unprecedented challenge of the pandemic has put pressure on the WHO, and Trump’s decision to end hundreds of millions of dollars in funding comes when the UN agency needs it most.
Trump initially suspended funding to the WHO last month, accusing it of not doing enough to curb the early spread of the virus and being too lenient with China, where the virus emerged late last year.
On Friday he made that decision permanent in a major blow for the agency’s finances, as the US is by far its biggest contributor, pumping in $400 million last year.
The president told reporters the US would be redirecting WHO funds ‘to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.’
The move sparked a fierce backlash on Saturday, with German health minister Jens Spahn saying the ‘disappointing’ decision was a setback for global health.
A spokesman for chancellor Angela Merkel said she would not attend an in-person summit of G7 leaders that Trump had suggested he would host.
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, said it was ‘madness and terrifying both at the same time’.
‘The US government has gone rogue at a time of humanitarian emergency,’ he tweeted.
Nearly six million people have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 across the world, and a vaccine remains elusive.
As the disease spreads across South America, the poor have been hit hard in countries like Brazil, which now has the second highest number of cases in the world after the United States.
Chile also logged another record number of deaths on Friday, pushing its total to almost 1,000.
In European countries that seem on the other side of their outbreak peak, there has been pressure to lift crippling lockdowns despite experts warning of a possible second wave of infections.
Tourism-dependent Greece said it will restart its two main airports for arrivals from 29 countries from June 15. But some European nations hard hit by the virus are not on the list, including France, Spain, Britain and Italy.
In Austria, hotels and cinemas were allowed to take in customers again on Friday under special guidelines, provided masks are worn.
Hotels and shopping centres in Ukraine’s capital Kiev also reopened on Saturday.
Turkey too has moved ahead with easing its restrictions as mosques opened for the first time in months, drawing hundreds of worshippers in masks for mass prayers in Istanbul.
And Denmark said it would reopen its border to visitors from Germany, Norway and Iceland from June 15, although Britain and the rest of the EU will have to wait a few more months.
Across the Atlantic, the US capital Washington DC resumed outdoor dining with social distancing precautions in place, while Los Angeles restaurants and hair salons also reopened.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the state was ‘on track’ to begin reopening in the week of June 8, even as the death toll in the US spiked by 1,225 on Friday.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan authorities fear a fresh outbreak of coronavirus infections after thousands of mourners paid their respects to the body of a respected union leader on Saturday, defying a curfew and social distancing rules.
Large crowds were seen jostling to bid farewell to Arumugam Thondaman, the leader of a tea plantation union and a government minister.
The 55-year-old died of a heart attack on Tuesday and is due to be cremated Sunday at Nuwara Eliya, in the country’s tea-growing highlands.
Authorities had imposed a 24-hour curfew in an unsuccessful attempt to stop crowds from visiting Thondaman’s body.
Sri Lanka has reported 10 deaths and 1,559 infections since the island country identified its first COVID-19 patient in January.
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