Texas and Florida clamped down on bars again Friday in the biggest retreat yet amid a surge across the South and West that sent the number of confirmed new coronavirus infections per day in the United States to an all-time high of 40,000.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars closed, while Florida banned alcohol consumption at all such establishments. Together the two states joined the small but growing list of those that are either backtracking or putting any further re-openings of their economies on hold because of the comeback by the virus.
Texas has surpassed 5,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients for the first time. In Houston, county officials Friday elevated a public threat warning system to the highest level.
“We never brought the curve all the way down,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “We only flattened it.”
Hospitalizations in Texas, reported by state health officials, have now jumped more than threefold over the past month. New records are set daily, and Abbott has brought back a ban on elective surgeries to free up beds.
Even so, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence on Friday sounded a note of optimism during a Friday afternoon news conference.
“As we see the new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago, that we’re in a time of great losses and great hardship on the American people. The reality is we’re in a much better place,” he said.
Pence tried to put a positive spin on the fact that in many jurisdictions, those under 35 are accounting for about half of new infections, given that younger people recover more quickly from the effects of the virus.
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Meanwhile, the number of single-day confirmed new infections in the U.S. soared past the previous high of 36,400, which was set on April 24 during one of the deadliest stretches in the crisis so far, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The average number of new cases per day has risen about 60 per cent over the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis.
While the increase is believed to reflect, in part, greatly expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the virus is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country, especially in the South and West.
The virus is blamed for 124,000 deaths in the U.S. and 2.4 million confirmed infections nationwide, by Johns Hopkins’ count, though Pence quoted a total of 126,000.
But the true numbers are probably much higher because of limited testing and other factors. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relying on blood tests, estimated Thursday that 20 million Americans have been infected. That is about six per cent of the population and nearly 10 times higher than the official count.
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that Imperial County, east of Los Angeles, has become so overwhelmed by the virus that the state was recommending it issue a strict new stay-at-home order. Newsom also said that in response to rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, he has paused allowing counties to further reopen their economies.
What’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada
As of 8:45 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 102,794 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 65,726 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,556.
In Europe, the official in charge of Spain‘s response to COVID-19 says imported infections are a growing source of concern as the continent readies to welcome more visitors.
Epidemiologist Fernando Simon said Thursday that 54 people who had contracted the disease in the past week have been linked to recently arrived visitors in Spain. He suggested that controls should be strict and that regional and local governments should be ready to apply localized isolation to avoid spreading the disease.
In Britain, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the government has the power to close beaches and other public spaces amid growing concerns over the public’s adherence to physical distancing rules.
Huge crowds on English beaches Thursday prompted the concern. Trash bins overflowed, extra police were called and the rural roads gridlocked by beachgoers now have signs stating the area is full.
Watch | Massive crowds ignoring physical distancing rules flock to U.K. beaches:
Meanwhile, Sweden‘s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, lashed out at the World Health Organization on Friday, calling it “a total mistake” to put his nation on a list of countries where “accelerated transmission” could overwhelm health systems. “This is unfortunately a total misjudgment of the Swedish data,” Tegnell told Swedish radio.
The report by the WHO’s Europe office on Thursday named 11 countries, including Sweden, Armenia, Albania, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Sweden has seen a steep rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, but this has been attributed to an increase in testing.
Also Friday, the WHO announced AstraZeneca’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine is probably the world’s leading candidate and most advanced in terms of development.
WATCH | WHO gives update on COVID-19 vaccine development:
In Asia, the virus has seen a comeback. In China, where the pandemic originated in December, authorities have mobilized resources for mass testing and locked down parts of Beijing this month due to an outbreak that has infected 260 people. The 11 new cases reported in the capital Friday continued a downward trend.
In Japan, officials recorded more than 100 new infections on Friday. It is the first time the country has seen numbers that high since May 9.
Meanwhile, India neared half a million confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday following its biggest 24-hour spike of 17,296 new infections, prompting a delay in resumption of regular train services of more than a month.
At the same time, other countries with large populations like Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico grappled with large caseloads and strained health-care systems. The world’s fourth-most populous country, Indonesia, passed 50,000 cases on Thursday, with at least 2,620 deaths, the highest number of cases and fatalities in Southeast Asia.
In Australia, health officials are expecting more cases of COVID-19 as hundreds of nationals return from overseas to begin mandatory quarantine.
About 300 people are due to arrive in Adelaide this weekend from Mumbai, India, while hundreds are expected to follow from South America and Indonesia.
People in hotel quarantine will be tested for the coronavirus at the start and end of their 14-day isolation.
South Australia state Health Minister Stephen Wade says he is preparing for about five to 10 per cent of returnees to be infected, as was the case when people arrived from Indonesia in other states.
In South America, Argentina will extend and tighten a lockdown in and around Buenos Aires following a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks, President Alberto Fernandez said on Friday.
“We need to gain time to guarantee that our health system is ready and can serve everyone,” he said. “The quarantine is a remedy for the pandemic, the only one we know of.”
Overall cases in the country have risen fivefold since late May, hitting over 50,000 on Thursday when there were 2,606 new confirmed daily cases. The death toll stands at more than 1,150.
Hospitals in the capital of Venezuela‘s main oil-producing state are filled with coronavirus patients, witnesses said this week in the first reports of the pandemic overwhelming the country’s debilitated health care system.
Health experts have long feared the impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela, where there are constant shortages of medicine and essential supplies after years of economic and political crisis.
This week, opposition figures and health care workers in the city of Maracaibo, capital of Zulia state, have reported that an outbreak that started in May has filled the city’s hospitals and infected dozens of doctors and nurses. According to official figures, Venezuela had 4,525 confirmed cases and 39 deaths as of Friday, although the true numbers appear to be significantly larger.
A comeback of the virus is also erasing hard-won gains in South Korea, which reported 39 newly confirmed cases on Friday, mostly from the densely populated capital area that had escaped the worst of the country’s outbreak in February and March. There’s criticism that authorities, concerned about a fragile economy, were too quick to ease physical distancing guidelines and reopen schools in May.
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