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US coronavirus deaths top 150,000, nearly a quarter of the world’s total

Florida reported a record increase in new COVID-19 deaths for a second successive day on Wednesday, with 217 fatalities in the past 24 hours, according to the state health department.

The pace of infections has accelerated since the US passed 100,000 dead on May 27.

The US epicentre has also moved, to the south and west of the country from the area around New York, which still has by far the highest death toll at more than 32,000.

On Tuesday, Arkansas, California, Florida, Montana, Oregon and Texas each reported record spikes in fatalities.

The rising numbers have crushed early hopes the country was past the worst of an economic crisis that has decimated businesses and put millions of Americans out of work.

Health experts have been saying for months that the US outbreak could be brought under control if guidelines to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public were followed everywhere.

Such measures became a hot partisan issue after President Donald Trump, who initially played down the seriousness of the health crisis after the first US case in January, refused to wear a mask or mandate mask-wearing nationally. Trump has since come around to supporting masks.

Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas who steadfastly refused to wear a mask, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday in a pre-screening at the White House ahead of a trip to his home state with Trump, a fellow Republican.

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Spokeswomen for Gohmert were not immediately available for comment.

With the scheduled reopening of schools days away in some states, the Trump administration is pushing for students to return to classrooms, while some teachers and local officials have called for learning to remain online.

Data has shown the disease is hitting low-income and minority populations disproportionately in some areas.

California health officials said Latinos, who make up just over a third of the most populous US state, account for 56 per cent of COVID-19 infections and 46 per cent of deaths.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), whose forecasts are closely watched by policymakers including the White House, first predicted in March that the pandemic could kill more than 81,000 by July after easing in June.

In its latest statement on July 14, the IHME said its model now projects the US death toll at more than 224,000 by November 1. It also said that number was not set in stone.

“Use of masks is up, but not as high as it should be. If 95 per cent of Americans wore masks each time they left their homes, infection rates would drop, hospitalisations would drop, and forecast deaths would drop,” the IHME said.

More than 1000 new cases in Spain

Spain diagnosed 1153 new coronavirus infections in the past day, the health ministry said on Wednesday, as the country continues to struggle with a rapidly accelerating surge of new cases.

The cumulative total rose to 282,641 cases, the ministry said. The figure was up 2031 from the previous day, and includes results from antibody tests on people who may already have recovered.

Tenor Bocelli changes his tune, apologises for comments

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli apologised on Wednesday for appearing to belittle the coronavirus by saying he didn’t know anyone who had gone into intensive care, comments that angered many and set off a storm of criticism on social media.

In a video on Facebook, Bocelli asked for forgiveness, saying “it was not my intention to offend those who have been struck by COVID”.

Italian singer Andrea Bocelli performed solo at the Duomo cathedral in Milan at Easter.

Italian singer Andrea Bocelli performed solo at the Duomo cathedral in Milan at Easter.Credit:AP

Speaking at the Senate on Monday, Bocelli said he believed the situation could not have been as serious as authorities were saying because he did not know anyone who had to go into intensive care. He urged people to disobey rules still in place.

Health officials criticised him and outrage flared on social media, with a Twitter hashtag #BocelliVergognati (Shame on you, Bocelli) going viral.

“Stick to singing!” one person tweeted, adding that the blind superstar was fortunate enough to spend the lockdown “in your massive villa and not have anyone in your family die”. More than 35,000 Italians have died from the coronavirus. .

Bocelli’s original comments surprised many because he was a symbol of national unity at the height of the lockdown on Easter Sunday when he sang in an empty Milan cathedral in a live-streamed solo performance called Music for Hope.

“To all those people who felt offended or suffered because of how I expressed myself – undoubtedly not in the best possible way – and the words I used, I ask that they accept my sincerest apologies, as my intention was quite the opposite,” he said in his apology.

Police face death on coronavirus frontline in Bolivia

Bolivia’s police forces in La Paz and El Alto have collected since April more than 3300 bodies of people who died at home or in public places, about 80 per cent of whom are suspected of having been infected with the novel coronavirus, a police chief said.

With health systems overwhelmed, the police have taken on a frontline role collecting the dead, with the number increasing to around three per hour in the past week as infections spread in the landlocked Andean nation of about 11.5 million people.

A man found lying outside a hospital in La Paz, Bolivia, is loaded into a wheelchair to be taken into a clinic that treats suspected COVID-19 patients.

A man found lying outside a hospital in La Paz, Bolivia, is loaded into a wheelchair to be taken into a clinic that treats suspected COVID-19 patients.Credit:AP

“The health service and forensic institutes have collapsed due to a lack of personnel, because the number of corpses that are now being collected is very large,” Walter Sossa, director of the special crime force in El Alto, said.

Bolivia’s official tally of coronavirus infections stands at more than 72,000, with a death toll of 2700, though as in many countries the actual number of fatalities is thought to be much higher.

Often with little protection, 527 police officers have been infected with the virus, Sossa said, meaning officers sometimes are carrying the bodies of colleagues. Some bodies have been collected on streets and a recent case involved confirming the death of an infant from the virus.

“We are human and we can be infected like any other person. We are also in the first line of work, and so we are more exposed than others,” said Sossa, adding that the bodies of three officers were retrieved on Tuesday.

UK urged to refine quarantine plans after Spain criticism

The British government came under renewed pressure on Wednesday to refine its travel policies following criticism of its sudden decision to remove Spain from its safe list, a change that has upended many holiday plans and rocked the ailing travel industry.

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While London Heathrow Airport urged a ramp-up in coronavirus testing and the UK’s biggest tour operator recommended a more regional approach to quarantining, Culture Minister Oliver Dowden downplayed the prospects for any change, arguing there was “no viable alternative”.

Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said he wants the 14-day self-isolation requirement to be eased for people arriving from countries not on the government’s exemption list — should they test negative for the virus on arrival as well as some days after.

“The UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast,” he said on Wednesday alongside half-year results showing the airport reporting a pretax loss of £1.1 billion ($1.9 billion). “Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.”

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Reuters, AP

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