US under siege as pandemic surges, Britain eases quarantine

MIAMI, July 3, 2020 (AFP) - The United States posted a record 53,000 new coronavirus cases as the deadly pandemic accelerated across the Americas, but its slowdown in Europe led Britain to announce Friday the first exemptions to its quarantine rules.

With Europe looking to turn the page on the biggest public health crisis in modern history, travelers arriving into Britain from Germany, France, Spain and Italy will no longer be required to self-isolate starting July 10.

Touching almost every country on Earth, COVID-19 — the disease brought on by the virus — has hit at least 10.7 million people and killed 516,000 globally, shattering previously buoyant economies and bringing public life to a standstill.

Yet while much of the planet pursued a return to some semblance of normality, the United States soared past 50,000 new infections Thursday for the second time in two days, casting a grim pall over its upcoming Independence Day celebrations.

Now the epicenter of the pandemic, the country has recorded nearly 129,000 deaths out of more than 2.7 million cases. It’s expected to record its three millionth infection next week.

Florida, which now has more than 169,000 cases, is a key focus of public health experts who worry about a surge in southern and western US states.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis blamed the rise on “social interactions” among young people gathering at parties, beaches, bars, swimming pools and elsewhere, as well as a more “robust” testing program.

In Texas, where more than 2,500 people have died, Governor Greg Abbott ordered people in counties with 20 or more cases to wear masks and banned gatherings of more than 10.

The move came after Texas reported nearly 8,000 new cases on Thursday, amid a record spike in infections that led to the governor largely halting the reopening program that started in early May.

States that reopened their economies the earliest and fastest after the pandemic struck — and against the advice of federal health authorities — are now experiencing the highest caseloads.

‘Roaring back’

Florida and other so-called “Sun Belt” states have been forced to re-shut restaurants, bars and beaches as the nation braces for the July 4 weekend.

These include California, which has seen a 56 percent increase in hospitalizations over two weeks, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

But President Donald Trump, under fire for his handling of the crisis, highlighted positive jobs data that showed 4.8 million people were back to work in June.

“Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back,” said Trump. “The crisis is being handled.”

The president’s characteristically optimistic outlook came a day after Arizona — population 7.3 million — recorded more new cases and deaths than the entire European Union, which has 446 million citizens.

But with some American governors now imposing 14-day quarantines on visitors from harder-hit states, the EU has begun reopening its borders. Residents of the United States, Brazil and virus-ravaged Russia are still being denied entry.