The coronavirus is touching all levels of society and increasing tensions as governments start to ease restrictions that health experts warn should be done gradually to avoid a resurgence of the illness that has killed more than 165,000 people.
The mounting pressure was evident in the United States. The Trump administration says parts of the nation are ready to begin a gradual return to normalcy. Yet some state leaders say woefully inadequate federal action, like a lack of testing supplies, is hindering their response to the illness.
After insisting the country’s virus testing system was without fault, U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday evening he would be using the Defence Production Act to compel increased manufacturing of testing swabs. He also remained defensive, however, vowing that there were enough swabs to go around. “Swabs are easy,” the president said, bringing one to his news briefing and waving it in front of reporters.
Trump also defended protests by his supporters, who have been gathered to demand state governors lift controls on public activity that were meant to stop the spread of the virus. The president has invoked their rallying cry and said Sunday night, “these people love our country. They want to go back to work.”
Shutdowns have disrupted economic, social, cultural and religious life and plunged the world into an economic slump unseen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to contract 3 per cent this year. Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs and millions more fear they’ll be next.
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A few countries are acting to ease restrictions and resume economic activity, but most of the world agrees the steps must be gradual.
The number of confirmed infections with the new coronavirus has surpassed 2.4 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true figures are likely significantly higher since mild infections can be missed, testing is limited and some countries tried to underplay their outbreaks or were too overwhelmed to effectively count them.
The death toll in the U.S., the worst-hit country by far, was more than 40,000 with over 750,000 confirmed infections.
The virus has reached all levels of society. At least 20 employees at Afghanistan’s presidential palace have tested positive, said a senior government official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to comment on the subject.
It wasn’t clear whether President Ashraf Ghani had been in contact with any of the employees or whether he had been tested himself. Ghani has reportedly been self-quarantining. At 70 and a cancer survivor, Ghani is at a high risk for serious illness.
The virus claimed an unlikely victim, as well: tens of thousands of tulips in full bloom in Japan. They were a centerpiece of an annual festival near Tokyo that was cancelled this year. But people were still gathering to admire the flowers, so the decision was made to raze them. All that remains are red and yellow petals lying smashed on the ground.
“This situation is now about human life,” said Takahiro Kogo, a city official overseeing the park. “It was a heart-wrenching decision, but we had to do it.”
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