INTERNATIONAL

Deaths surge in U.S.; China cases jump

America reports 1,600 COVID-19 casualties in 24 hours; Muslims begin scaled-back Haj pilgrimage

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. surged to their highest level in months on Wednesday as Muslim pilgrims began a pandemic-curtailed version of their sacred Haj.

The human toll of the disease in the U.S. hit a magnitude not seen since mid-May with nearly 1,600 deaths recorded in 24 hours for the world’s hardest-hit country, Johns Hopkins University reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile China, where the deadly pathogen was first detected late last year, reported its highest single-day case total in three months. Residents in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong were adjusting to their strictest social-distancing measures yet over fears a “large-scale” outbreak could overwhelm hospitals. COVID-19 has claimed 6,60,000 lives and infected more than 16.7 million people across the globe, according to an AFP tally, although experts believe the true infection rate could be wildly higher.

Clusters and lockdowns

Case numbers have been rising across the U.S. for weeks, leaving health authorities and leaders to watch nervously for a feared spike in fatalities. President Donald Trump’s push for re-election in November has been dogged by the virus crisis that has already killed nearly 1,50,000 Americans and wrought havoc on the world’s biggest economy.

In a fresh blow to the President, Twitter removed a video that Mr. Trump retweeted in which doctors made allegedly false claims about the pandemic, saying it broke its “COVID-19 misinformation policy”.

China reported a three-month high of 101 new virus cases on Wednesday as sporadic regional outbreaks illustrated the mammoth task of keeping contagion at bay.

Authorities have concentrated their attention on a cluster that emerged last week in the northeastern port city of Dalian, where officials said workers handled contaminated packaging of imported seafood.

More than three million people have been tested there and enclosed public venues including libraries, gyms and restaurants will be closed. Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam warned the financial hub was “on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak, which may lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially of the elderly”.

10,000 pilgrims

The annual Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia’s Mecca drew 2.5 million Muslims last year, but in 2020 just 10,000 already living in the kingdom will be allowed in. The chosen ones were subject to electronic tagging, temperature checks and quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca over the weekend.

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