Six Trump staffers tested positive for coronavirus as crowds ignored health warnings and gathered to hear the US president speak Saturday at his first rally since March, while cases and deaths rose in several Latin American countries.
The figures were particularly alarming in Chile, where the death toll nearly doubled to more than 7,000 under a revised tallying method, and passed 20,000 in Mexico.
Europe meanwhile chalked up more than 2.5 million cases. Although the spread has slowed, Europe is still the worst-affected continent.
Almost half of its cases have been registered in Russia, Britain, Spain and Italy, according to an AFP tally on Saturday.
The continent is easing its way out of strict lockdowns that have caused crippling economic damage, even as the WHO warns against giving in to isolation fatigue.
The virus has now killed more than 461,000 people and infected 8.7 million worldwide.
A vaccine remains months off at best despite several trials, and scientists are still learning more about the virus, its symptoms and the extent to which it may have spread before being identified.
– ‘Still spreading fast’ –
As people gathered at an arena in the US city of Tulsa for the Trump rally, it emerged that six of the Tulsa advance team there had tested positive for coronavirus and been quarantined.
Critics, including Tulsa city officials, had already expressed concern that the event — at a venue with a capacity of 20,000 — violated guidelines issued by the US health authorities.
However, Trump has been consistently critical of lockdown measures. Those attending Saturday’s event will have to sign a disclaimer to ensure the president will not be held liable if they contract the virus.
One supporter, who gave her name as Jody while waiting in line with her five-year-old son dressed as a mini-Trump, said she would be wearing a mask but expected that many others would not.
“I wish people would wear them, but you can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do,” she said.
The United States remains the country worst hit by the pandemic, having recorded 119,460 deaths from more than 240,000 registered cases.
The world’s largest economy is taking a beating in a year when Trump seeks re-election.
– Latin American numbers rise –
Chile nearly doubled its coronavirus death toll Saturday to more than 7,144 under a new tallying method that includes probable fatalities from COVID-19, the health ministry announced.
The announcement of the new counting system was meant to end weeks of controversy over the death toll numbers being released by the government.
After investigative news organisation CIPER revealed that Chile was supplying the higher figures to the World Health Organization, health minister Jaime Manalich resigned last week.
The new health minister, Enrique Paris, insisted that the government never meant to deceive. “No data has ever been hidden,” he said.
Chile’s latest figures came a day after Brazil followed the United States past the one-million cases marker; and Mexico announced it was delaying plans to reopen the economy until the number of infections had dropped further.
“The world is in a new and dangerous phase,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Friday.
“Many people are understandably fed up with being at home… but the virus is still spreading fast.”
– ‘I cried with joy’ –
The Palestinian Authority announced Saturday it was temporarily closing the cities of Hebron and Nablus in the occupied West Bank for after a sharp rise in infections.
Only goods will be allowed in, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told journalists. Authorities have reported a total of 687 cases in the West Bank, including two deaths so far.
In Europe, researchers in Italy said they had found evidence the virus was present in December — about the same time the disease was first reported in China.
They discovered genetic traces in samples of waste water collected in several cities, the ISS institute said.
Italy only confirmed its first cases in February, imposing a strict lockdown in March.
Much of the continent followed Italy into lockdown and shops, restaurants and other businesses have only slowly reopened.
Millions more children in France are preparing to return to school on Monday after three months away.
“I cried with joy when I got the confirmation from the teacher that my two children would be going back to school full time,” said Noemie from Nice.
France is also reopening cinemas from Monday and stadiums for team sports, and in another sign of returning normality, actors have also started kissing again on film shoots.
Spain meanwhile, announced it would let British nationals in without a two-week quarantine — despite Britain enforcing those measures on foreign nationals there.
Spain opens its borders from midnight to EU states, in a bid to get its tourism industry back up and running.