BRASILIA • The number of coronavirus cases worldwide topped six million yesterday, with Brazil registering another record surge in daily infections as divisions deepened over how to deal with the crisis.
Latin American countries are bracing themselves 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 US – 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 state governors and mayors for imposing what he calls “the tyranny of total quarantine”.
As the global death toll from the pandemic surpassed 370,000, US President Donald Trump’s decision to permanently cut funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been broadly criticised.
“Now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions,” the European Union said in a statement. “Actions that weaken international results must be avoided.”
Mr Trump suspended funding to the WHO in April, accusing it of not doing enough to curb the early spread of Covid-19 and being too lenient with China, from where the coronavirus emerged late last year.
Last Friday, he moved to make that decision permanent.
The US is the WHO’s biggest contributor, supplying US$400 million (S$565 million) last year.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the “disappointing” decision was a setback for global health.
30k The number of fatalities approaching this figure in Brazil – the epicentre of South America’s outbreak. The country has nearly 500,000 confirmed cases – lagging only behind the United States – as disagreement among leaders over lockdown measures has hampered efforts to slow the virus.
>370k Global death toll from the pandemic.
Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief 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 on 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 today, senior advisers to the government warned that it was moving too quickly.
India said last Saturday that it would begin relaxing the world’s biggest lockdown in stages from early this month, while Iran, the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, announced that collective prayers would resume in mosques.
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 last Saturday, while in Paris, parks and the famed Galeries Lafayette department store flung open their doors.
In the United States, Washington resumed outdoor dining, while restaurants and hair salons in Los Angeles reopened. New York City, the worst-hit US city with about 21,500 deaths, is on track to begin reopening next week.
The overall US death toll has topped 105,000 out of more than 1.8 million cases of the virus.
Global sport has started to rev back into action, with Austria announcing it will host Formula One’s delayed season-opener on July 5.