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Virus claims record dead but Trump sees light at end of tunnel

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A cashier wearing a face shield for protection against the deadly new coronavirus bags groceries for a customer at the Local Market Foods store in Chicago. AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The coronavirus pandemic notched up another round of record death tolls in the United States and Europe, dousing the optimism of US President Donald Trump who insisted there was light at the end of the tunnel.

The virus has now killed more than 86,000 people and infected 1.5 million, sparing almost no country and tipping the world into a devastating economic crisis as global commerce shudders to a halt.

For the second straight day, the US grieved nearly 2,000 deaths on Wednesday, as flags flew at half-mast in hardest-hit New York.

There was also a record death toll of 938 over 24 hours in Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a third night in intensive care, his condition said to be “improving.”

France saw its total number of dead climb over 10,000 as the country prepared to extend its strict lockdown measures. Spain and Italy are still seeing hundreds of deaths per day despite tentative signs the disease may have peaked.

And the pandemic is marching into areas previously only lightly affected: in Africa, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency and Liberia said it was locking down its capital Monrovia.

Its deadly tentacles also crept deep into the Amazon rainforest, with the first case detected among the Yanomami, an indigenous people isolated from the world until the mid-20th century and vulnerable to disease.

Nevertheless, some glimmers of hope shone in the darkness, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo saying the epidemic curve seemed to be flattening.

“We are hopefully heading towards a final stretch, the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Trump.

All around the world, medical facilities are at bursting point as they struggle with a relentless procession of critically-ill patients.

In the badly affected city of Guayaquil in Ecuador, sick patients are passing out before arriving at emergency care and the elderly are slumped outside in wheelchairs at overwhelmed hospitals.

At the global level, the World Health Organization and Trump are embroiled in an ugly war of words, with Trump accusing the UN body of “blowing it” and being too close to China.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged unity at a time of global crisis, saying: “If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicising it.”

“It’s like playing with fire.”

Governments are wrestling with the problem of when to exit lockdown procedures and reboot a global economy that is effectively in deep freeze.

The pandemic has forced half of humanity inside, an unprecedented measure that has allowed wildlife to reclaim previously choked streets.

In India, hundreds of monkeys are running riot in the roads around the presidential palace while peacocks display their spectacular trains on top of parked cars in Mumbai.

In Vienna, animals are being conscripted into the fight against the virus, with horse-drawn carriages converted from a tourist attraction to a food delivery service.

Christian Gerzabek, who drives one of the famous city “Fiaker”, said business had crawled to a halt but “the horses still have to be moved, they want to get out after the winter.”

“I thought that we should combine that… with doing something good for people who need it,” he told AFP.

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