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Global infections pass 5m as deaths soar in Latin America

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The pandemic played out unevenly across the planet, with Europe tentatively emerging from its shell and deaths still rising in hot spots in Latin America.
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Global infections from the novel coronavirus passed 5 million on Thursday as the pandemic played out unevenly across the planet, with Europe tentatively emerging from its shell and deaths still rising in hot spots in Latin America.

The grim milestone comes after known cases of COVID-19 doubled in just one month, according to AFP data collected from official sources, with the death toll now topping 328,000 worldwide.

The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday, there were “106,000 cases reported to WHO — the most in a single day since the outbreak began” in December.

“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” Tedros said as his agency warned of rising infection figures in poorer countries.

While many hard-hit European countries have significantly turned the tide on new infections and fatalities, Latin America is in the grip of an infection surge.

Brazil is leading the pack, logging the third-highest number of cases in the world after the US and Russia.

Peru, Mexico and Chile have also seen steady increases in infections, with nurses in Lima warning that the health system is on the brink of collapse after cases and deaths tripled over the past three weeks.

“It’s like a horror film,” Miguel Armas, a nurse at the Hipolito Unanue hospital in the capital Lima, said. “Inside it seems like a cemetery given all the bodies. Patients are dying in their chairs (or) in their wheelchairs.”

In Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro continues to scorn experts’ advice on curbing the contagion as he presses regional governors to end stay-at-home measures.

And like US President Donald Trump, he has promoted the use of anti-malaria drugs against the virus despite studies showing they have no benefit and could have dangerous side effects.

Trump, for his part, insists the US is “Transitioning back to Greatness” as states reopen at different speeds. His optimism cut a sharp contrast with the bleak health situation in the country, which leads the world in cases and deaths.

While daily death tolls are no longer on a steady incline, the losses are still punishing with more than 1,500 additional fatalities reported in 24 hours on Wednesday, taking the total in the US to more than 93,400.

On the economic front, the latest figures out of the US showed the rate of unemployment slowing — but the total number of jobs lost since mid-March stood at an eye-watering 38.6 million.

Meanwhile, doubts grew over ambitious plans by European governments to use contact-tracing smartphone apps to fight the spread of the virus as they ease their lockdowns and restart their economies.

British Security Minister James Brokenshire told the BBC that an app that was supposed to be introduced by mid-May is not ready, and he suggested “technical issues” were to blame.

Similarly, France delayed last week’s planned roll-out of its app, saying it won’t be ready before next month because of technical problems and privacy concerns. Experts say that being able to quickly identify people exposed to the virus can help stop the spread of the scourge.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said that his country’s app will begin testing in the coming days, and Spain plans to try out its technology in June.

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