The global death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic yesterday topped 250,000, with the US government predicting a further surge in fatalities.
The dire forecast from the US came as much of the Western world emerged from weeks of lockdown, with hopes that the disease might have peaked in Europe after nearly two months of confinement.
A tally of official figures showed that Europe is the hardest-hit continent with about 145,000 fatalities. The US has recorded close to 68,700. Together they account for more than 85 percent of global deaths. Since the disease first surfaced in China late last year the number of confirmed cases has reached almost 3.6 million.
The grim figures were on Monday compounded by an internal government estimate in Washington that forecast the daily COVID-19 infection rate in the US could surge eightfold to 200,000 per day by June 1, and the daily death toll could rise to 3,000.
US President Donald Trump has said that deaths are expected go beyond his prediction of 60,000, saying: “We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people.”
His estimate underscored the tough, politically-tinged debate over reopening, which pits concerns about a rising death toll against the need to restore national economies shattered by prolonged shutdowns.
The economic fallout in the US prompted the US Department of the Treasury to announce it plans to borrow a record US$3 trillion in the April-to-June period, largely to finance spending on virus relief programs.
People across Europe basked in a return to the outdoors, mixed with a dose of trepidation about life ahead and the economic damage wreaked by lockdowns.
Workers banged away at construction sites in Rome, police gave out masks in Madrid and older children returned to school in Vienna.
“We are all afraid,” said a masked Cristina Jimenez, 31, in Madrid.
“Who hasn’t lost their job already may lose it in the next few months, but what is important is that we are well,” she said.
Spain and Portugal made masks mandatory on public transport as they further eased their lockdowns, while Slovenia, Poland and Hungary allowed public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.
In Paris, France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe defended the government’s plan for easing a lockdown in the face of bitter criticism.
The French are due to emerge on Monday next week from a lockdown that began in mid-March.
Signs have grown that the epidemic is slowing in France, although a spike in the daily death toll on Monday to 306 — more than double the day earlier — propelled its total number of dead to 25,201.
Philippe rejected concerns that the government is moving too fast, especially by reopening schools, a move that puts France out of step with some other EU countries.
“This confinement was necessary to meet the emergency, but its social and economic cost is colossal,” he told the French Senate.
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