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US coronavirus death toll surpasses 150,000

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Washington:  The US has recorded over 150,000 Covid-19 deaths, another grim milestone that comes amidst warning from a top Indian-American physician that the country has failed to arrest the spread of the deadly pandemic.

America’s coronavirus death toll was 150,676 as of Wednesday — more than a fifth of the world’s recorded deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US also had over 4,426,000 confirmed cases, making it the world’s worst-hit country.

The first death in the US was reported on February 29. The country reached 50,000 deaths 54 days later on April 23, and 34 days later, on May 27, crossed 100,000 deaths. It has taken 63 days to add another 50,000 to reach the 150,000 mark, CNN reported.

“I think the fact that we as a country have not been able to get our arms around this, have not prioritised preventing those deaths is all that much more maddening,” Dr Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said.

“And so, for me it’s frustration, it’s sadness. And a resolve to try to figure out how we prevent the next 150,000,” Jha told CNN.

“I think we can, but we’re really going to have to work for it,” he added.

Some states in the US are seeing their highest death tolls. California on Wednesday reported 197 Covid-related deaths in a single day, according to state Department of Public Health. That total far outpaces the previous high of 159, recorded just last week.

Florida also reported a record 216 deaths on Wednesday.

Infectious disease experts say the US is at a critical juncture, as debates about how and whether to reopen schools for in-person learning are taking place across the country.

Case rates rose as businesses reopened and distancing rules relaxed in late spring, and those wanting more normalcy soon should get more disciplined now by wearing masks, limiting outdoor dining and social gatherings, and closing bars, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday.

“It’s not going to spontaneously come down,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he said in a call with several governors about the raging pandemic.

Fauci has also disputed claims in a video shared on social media by President Donald Trump about mask-wearing and the use of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloriquine to treat Covid-19.

Fauci told the BBC that it was not productive for him to judge the president’s tweets or retweets but made it clear that his own view on masks was well known in the White House, adding that “it’s not helpful” for conflicting guidance to be presented “when we are trying to get people to universally wear masks”.

Meanwhile, scholars at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security said in a report that the United States needs to restart its response with policy actions at the federal, state and local levels to get control of the pandemic.

“Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic,” the report says, adding that, “It is time to reset.”

The report includes 10 recommendations that include universal mask mandates, federal leadership to improve testing and, in places where rates of transmission are worsening, stay-at-home orders.

US is expected to report record-breaking economic plunge

Washington:  Having endured what was surely a record-shattering slump last quarter, the US economy faces a dim outlook as a resurgent coronavirus intensifies doubts about any sustained recovery the rest of the year.

A huge plunge in consumer spending as people stayed home and avoided shopping, traveling or gathering in crowds as the virus raged is estimated to have sent the economy sinking at a roughly 32 per cent annual rate in the April-June quarter.

That would be more than triple the previous worst quarterly economic fall, a 10 per cent drop set in 1958. Depressed activity in such areas as business investment, home construction and government spending also likely contributed to the worst quarterly contraction on records dating to 1947.

On Thursday, the government will issue its first of three estimates of economic activity, as measured by the gross domestic product, for the April-June quarter.

So dizzying was the contraction last quarter that most analysts expect the economy to manage a sharp bounce-back in the current July-September quarter, perhaps of as much as 17% or higher on an annual basis.

Yet with the rate of confirmed coronavirus cases now rising in a majority of states, more businesses being forced to pull back on re-openings and the Republican Senate proposing to scale back the government’s aid to the unemployed, the economy could worsen in the months ahead.

The Trump administration is betting against that outcome in asserting that the economy will undergo a V-shaped recovery in which last quarter’s plunge would be followed by an impressive rebound in the current quarter — a hoped-for dose of good news that would be reported in late October, not long before Election Day.

Yet many economists are talking about a different letter of the alphabet. Noting that the economy can’t fully recover until the pandemic is defeated or a vaccine is widely available, they envision a W-shaped scenario, in which a rebound in the current quarter would be followed by a sustained period of tepid growth or even outright recession.

“The markdowns are coming because of the clear economic damage the virus is doing,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who said he believes the economy is losing jobs this month after two months of gains.

“We are going in reverse here,” Zandi said.

Analysts warn that the outlook could darken still further if Congress fails to enact enough financial aid to replace the expiring USD 600-a-week federal boost in unemployment benefits or provide sufficient help for businesses and state and local governments.

Senate Republicans released a USD 1 trillion proposal on Monday that falls far short of a USD 3 trillion measure the House has passed, leaving an enormous gap for Democrats and Republicans to bridge as some elements of Congress’ earlier emergency relief programs run out.

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