Tuesday, September 21, 2021

After Europe, Covid-19 restrictions make a comeback in the US

The US is experiencing its third and worst-by-far spike in coronavirus cases.

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The mayor of the US’ third biggest city Chicago issued a new stay-at-home advisory on Thursday, as the country’s Covid-19 outbreak shattered records in the absence of a national strategy by President Donald Trump.

Lori Lightfoot called on the Midwestern city’s 2.7 million people to go out only for essential tasks or to attend work or school, to scrap Thanksgiving plans and to avoid travel.

“Every single one of us needs to step up and ‘Protect Chicago’ right now, or 2020 could go from bad to worse,” said an explanatory note on the city’s website.

It comes as the US, already the world’s hardest hit country, experiences its third and worst-by-far spike in coronavirus cases.

The seven-day-average of new daily cases currently stands above 125,000, more than 65,000 people are hospitalised, and more than 1,000 people are dying every day, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.

Four states, including former global epicentre New York, have in recent days ordered restaurants and bars to close at 10pm.

And in embattled North Dakota, the governor has authorised Covid-19 positive medics who don’t have symptoms to keep working in virus wards.

President Trump, who has focused his energies recently on trying to overturn the election victory of his rival Joe Biden through legal challenges, rarely talks about the pandemic anymore, but has always opposed sweeping lockdowns.

Trump has instead focused on medical innovations as a means to end the crisis – and the world received a dose of much-needed hope this week when US drug giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech said their vaccine was 90 percent effective.

Top US government scientist Anthony Fauci welcomed the news Thursday, saying that the “cavalry” was on its way, but warned people not to let mask wearing, distancing and other measures slip.

Speaking to a London think tank by video-link, the world-leading expert on infectious diseases added another vaccine is “literally on the threshold of being announced”, widely interpreted to mean one developed by US biotech firm Moderna.

But the vaccines won’t arrive in time to prevent tens of thousands more deaths.

An AFP tally of official sources found Thursday that the daily number of global deaths had gone over the symbolic level of 10,000 in the past 24 hours for the first time since the start of the pandemic, standing at 10,010.

‘People just don’t care’

Global markets slid on fears of the virus surge that threatens economic recovery, eroding earlier gains led by vaccine hopes.

France reported Thursday that the number of people in hospital for Covid-19 was now higher than during previous peaks in April.

Elsewhere in Europe, Slovenia’s government announced that public transport was being suspended and a ban on nearly all public meetings and gatherings for the next fortnight.

And Portugal’s prime minister said that a nighttime curfew that was already in place in parts of the country would now cover some 70% of the population as the number of Covid patients being treated in hospital was more than double the peak seen in the spring.

Serbia’s Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar meanwhile cautioned that there were no more hospital beds available for virus patients in the capital Belgrade.

But for all the dire warnings, there was growing evidence that people were ignoring restrictions imposed by governments and minimising the risk of infection.

In France, a survey revealed that more than half of the population had broken regulations governing a current partial lockdown.

“The second wave is extremely strong,” Prime Minister Jean Castex warned in a virtual news conference. “One in four deaths is now due to Covid.”

In India, crowds packed New Delhi markets ahead of the Deepavali festival of lights, the country’s biggest holiday, saying they were fed up with being cooped up.

India has the world’s second-highest caseload behind the US, and there are fears that a Deepavali surge could hit major cities across the country of 1.3 billion.

“People just don’t care,” said Tanisha, a 19-year-old student. “People want to come out.”

Compounding the weariness, a report by the non-profit First Draft that fights misinformation delivered worrying news on Thursday, saying conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines played an “outsized role” on social media and could threaten their efficacy.

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