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US virus death toll passes 250,000, New York closes schools

0 month ago, 19-Nov-2020

People wearing masks walk during a cold evening on the Brooklyn Promenade in New York City. AFP photo

NEW YORK: US coronavirus deaths passed a quarter of a million people Wednesday as New York announced it would close schools to battle a rise in infections and anti-restriction protests in Europe turned violent.

America has now registered 250,426 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest reported national death toll.

US states and cities were imposing a raft of new restrictions, including home confinement, the closure of indoor dining and a limit on gatherings as cases soar across the country, with more than 157,950 new infections recorded over the past 24 hours on Wednesday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the citys 1,800 public schools would revert to remote learning beginning Thursday after the Big Apple recorded a seven-day average positivity rate of three percent.

We must fight back the second wave of Covid-19, he said.

The toughened measures in Americas most-populous city came despite pharma giant Pfizer boosting hopes of a possible end to the pandemic by announcing improved results for its vaccine.

Europe meanwhile remains the hardest-hit region, accounting for 46 percent of new global cases and 49 percent of deaths last week, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Its figures additionally showed the only region where cases and deaths declined last week was Southeast Asia.

Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have died of Covid-19 and over 55 million have been reported infected with the virus since it first surfaced in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

In Switzerland, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, the Swiss Society for Intensive Care Medicine (SSMI) warned that intensive care units are practically all full.

More beds have been added, and the Swiss military has been called in to support efforts in several areas.

Many European countries are extending heavy restrictions on daily life in attempts to curb the spread of the virus.

In Hungary, a state of emergency that enables partial lockdown measures has now been extended until February.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin voiced alarm at his countrys rising fatality rate but stopped short of introducing strict measures seen in many European countries.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he would impose severe restrictions in many areas of his country from Saturday.

And in Central America coronavirus efforts are being threatened by the hurricane season, according to the Pan American Health Organisation, which said it anticipates an increase in infections in the wake of Iota and Eta which wreaked havoc on the region over the past weeks.

There was more encouraging news out of Belgium, which has had one of the highest death rates in Europe since the start of the pandemic, where authorities said a month-long semi-lockdown was beginning to work.

For the first time in weeks, or even for several months, all indicators are going in the right direction, meaning they are all going down: The number of infections, hospitalisations and for the first time the number of deaths, said Covid-19 Crisis Centre spokesman Yves Van Laethem. AFP

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