Virus cases about 2M worldwide; few new hot spots

WASHINGTON (AP) – New York’s coronavirus death toll topped 10,000 and the worldwide number of confirmed cases hovered around two million on Monday, even as the lack of fresh hot spots globally yielded a ray of optimism and fueled discussions about how some places might begin to reopen.

The brunt of the disease has been felt most heavily in New York, Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK), but grim projections of a virus that would spread with equal ferocity to other corners of America and the world have not yet materialised after more than a month of measures meant to blunt its impact.

An online dashboard that tracks the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases, maintained by Johns Hopkins University, late Monday night showed the number of cases in the United States (US) approaching 683,000, with more than two million worldwide.

The site was later adjusted to reflect nearly 582,000 cases in the US and 1.9 million cases worldwide. It was not immediately clear why the numbers changed. Of those 1.9 million cases, nearly 120,000 people have died, while nearly 449,600 have recovered.

The death toll in populous states such as Florida and Pennsylvania was on par with some individual counties outside New York City. Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city and a hub for immigrant communities and business travellers in the energy industry, has been largely spared compared to other parts of the US. As Colorado deaths surpassed 300 on Monday, Gov Jared Polis compared that figure to New York’s thousands and called it “a tragic indication of our success in Colorado.”

A man wearing a mask passes a mural in New York City. PHOTO: AFP

Officials around the world worried that halting quarantine and social-distancing measures could easily undo the hard-earned progress that those steps have achieved in slowing the spread.

Still, there were signs countries were looking in that direction. Spain permitted some workers to return to their jobs, while a hard-hit region of Italy loosened its lockdown restrictions. Governors on both coasts of the US announced that they would join forces to come up with a coordinated reopening at some point, setting the stage for a potential conflict with US President Donald Trump, who asserted that he is the ultimate decision-maker for determining how and when to reopen.

Trump continued those assertions during an afternoon White House briefing on Monday, pushing back against reporters’ questions about whether the president or governors have the authority to ease the restrictions. He said his administration has “a very good relationship” with the governors, but “the federal government has absolute power” in that decision-making process if it chooses to exercise it.

The Trump administration also sought to delay deadlines for the 2020 census because of the outbreak, a move that would push back timetables for releasing data used to draw congressional and legislative districts.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at Monday’s briefing that he expects more than 80 million Americans will have tax rebates directly deposited into their bank accounts today. The rebates are aimed at boosting the economy as the country responds to the coronavirus.

New York saw a few positive signs on Monday even as it reached another bleak milestone. It marked the first time in a week that the daily toll dipped below 700. Almost 2,000 people were newly hospitalised with the virus on Sunday, though once discharges and deaths are accounted for, the number of people hospitalised has flattened to just under 19,000.

“This virus is very good at what it does. It is a killer,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

In the US, about half of the more than 22,000 deaths reported are in the New York metropolitan area. Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins’ tracking maps showed a dense patchwork of coronavirus cases along the Northeast corridor, as well as significant outbreaks corresponding to other major metropolitan areas – though nothing on the scale of what New York has endured.

Houston’s 18 total deaths since the start of the outbreak make up a tiny fraction of the one-day toll in New York City, prompting Mayor Sylvester Turner to say the city was achieving its goal of slowing “the progression of this virus so that our health care delivery system would not be overwhelmed.”

Dr Sebastian Johnston, a professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London, said it appeared that COVID-19 had peaked in much of Europe, including France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK. He was worried the virus might now start to take off in countries across Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. There’s also concern about Russia.

China, where the pandemic began, reported 89 new virus cases yesterday, 86 of them among travellers arriving from abroad, but no new deaths. The country’s total death toll stood at 3,341 out of 82,249 cases.