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World virus cases top six million as leaders disagree on response

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A man walks past graffiti about human fighting against the coronavirus in Narayanganj, Bangladesh, May 18, 2020. (Str/Xinhua)

BRASILA (AFP) – The number of coronavirus cases worldwide topped six million Sunday, with Brazil registering another record surge in daily infections as divisions deepened on how to deal with the pandemic.

Latin American countries are bracing for difficult weeks ahead as the disease spreads rapidly across the region, even as much of the world exits lockdowns that have wrecked economies and stripped millions of their jobs.

In Brazil – the epicentre of South America’s outbreak with nearly 500,000 confirmed cases, lagging only behind the United States – disagreement among leaders over lockdown measures has hampered efforts to slow the virus as the number of fatalities in the country nears 30,000.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who fears the economic fallout from stay-at-home measures will be worse than the virus, has berated governors and mayors for imposing what he calls “the tyranny of total quarantine”.

As the global death toll from the pandemic surpassed 368,000, US President Donald Trump’s decision to permanently cut funding to the World Health Organization has been broadly criticised.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide is more than six million, according to an AFP tally.

“Now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions,” the European Union said in a statement, adding: “Actions that weaken international results must be avoided.”

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 COVID-19 emerged late last year.

On Friday he moved to make that decision permanent in a major blow to the agency. The US is the WHO’s biggest contributor, supplying $400 million last year.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the “disappointing” decision was a setback for global health, while Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to attend an in-person G7 summit 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”.

As the virus progresses at different speeds around the globe, there has been pressure in many countries to lift crippling lockdowns, despite experts’ warnings of a possible second wave of infections.

In Britain, which is set to begin lifting its lockdown on Monday, senior advisors to the government warned that it was moving too quickly.

“COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England,” tweeted Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Iran meanwhile announced that collective prayers would resume in mosques, despite infections ticking back upwards in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound – the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia – reopened to worshippers on Sunday.

With infection numbers falling in many of Europe’s most affected countries, the push to restart economies was gaining steam.

Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa reopened on Saturday, while in Paris, parks and the famed Galeries Lafayette department store flung open their doors.

In Austria, hotels and cinemas were allowed to take in customers, provided they wear masks.

Across the Atlantic, the US capital Washington resumed outdoor dining, while on the West Coast, restaurants and hair salons in Los Angeles reopened.

New York City, the worst-hit American city with about 21,500 coronavirus deaths, is on track to begin reopening the week of June 8.

The overall US death toll has topped 103,000 out of more than 1.7 million cases of the virus.

Global sport has also started to rev back into action, with Austria announcing it will host Formula One’s delayed season-opener on July 5, and the NBA eyeing a July 31 return.

Britain approved the return of domestic competitive sport on June 1 – with no fans present – while South Africa has given a provisional green light for training to resume.

As the virus hits the world’s poor particularly hard, Pope Francis called for a “more just and equitable society” in the post-coronavirus world and for people to act to “end the pandemic of poverty”.

Even the animal world has not been left untouched by the pandemic.

Gibraltar has banned tourists from touching the British enclave’s famous Barbary macaques over fears they could spread coronavirus.

Singapore’s beloved otters meanwhile have been popping up in unexpected places during the city-state’s lockdown, but their increasingly daring antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull.

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