Breathtaking virus numbers show normal life still far away

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa was poised on Saturday to join the top five countries most affected by the coronavirus, while breathtaking numbers around the world were a reminder that a return to normal life is still far from sight.

Confirmed virus cases worldwide have topped 14 million and deaths have surpassed 600,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data, a day after the World Health Organization reported a single-day record of new infections at over 237,000. Death tolls in the United States are reaching new highs, and India’s infections are over 1 million.

Iran’s president made the startling announcement that as many as 25 million Iranians could have been infected, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Hassan Rouhani cited a new Health Ministry study that has not been made public. Iran has seen the Middle East’s worst outbreak with more than 270,000 confirmed cases.

Experts believe the true numbers around the world are higher because of testing shortages. And as countries try to ease lockdowns, new ripples of cases follow.

South Africa on Saturday could join the U.S., Brazil, India and Russia as the most badly hit countries as its cases near 350,000. Current case trends show it will surpass Peru.

That comes as the world marks Mandela Day, remembering South Africa’s first Black president and his legacy of fighting inequality. The country, however, remains the world’s most unequal, and health officials have warned that the pandemic will lay that bare.

“The simple fact is that many South Africans are sitting ducks because they cannot comply with World Health Organization protocols on improved hygiene and social distancing,” the foundation of former South African archbishop and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, said in a statement.

South Africa’s new epicenter, Gauteng province, is home to one-quarter of the country’s population, with many poor people living in crowded conditions in the middle of a frosty winter.

The country’s cases make up roughly half of all on the African continent. Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for less-resourced nations there. Mandela’s message is “more relevant than ever,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said, calling for equitable access to care.

In India, a surge of 34,884 new cases was reported as local governments continue to re-impose focused lockdowns in several parts of the country.

In the U.S., teams of military medics have been deployed in Texas and California to help hospitals deluged by patients. The two most populous states each reported roughly 10,000 new cases and some of their highest death counts.

 

In China, the number of confirmed cases in a new outbreak in the far western region of Xinjiang has risen to 17.

In Bangladesh, confirmed cases surpassed 200,000 but experts say the number is much higher as the country lacks adequate labs for testing. Most people in rural areas have stopped wearing masks and are thronging shopping centers ahead of the Islamic festival Eid al-Adha this month.

And in Britain, scientists poured cold water on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hope that the country may return to normal by Christmas. That’s “a long way off, unfortunately” without a vaccine, said epidemiologist John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Britain has registered more than 45,000 COVID-19 deaths, the highest in Europe. But the government said it will halt issuing daily updates to that toll while authorities investigate the way the statistics are compiled. Academics said in England the tally includes anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and later died, meaning some may have died of other causes.

AP

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