US virus toll crosses 250,000, New York schools halt classes

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New York: US coronavirus deaths passed a quarter of a million people on Wednesday as New York announced it would close schools to battle a rise in infections and anti-restriction protests in Europe turned violent. America has now registered 250,426 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest reported national death toll.

US states and cities were imposing a raft of new restrictions, including home confinement, the closure of indoor dining and a limit on gatherings as cases soar across the country, with more than 157,950 new infections recorded over the past 24 hours on Wednesday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s 1,800 public schools would revert to remote learning beginning Thursday after the Big Apple recorded a seven-day average positivity rate of three percent. “We must fight back the second wave of Covid-19,” he said. The toughened measures in America’s most-populous city came despite pharma giant Pfizer boosting hopes of a possible end to the pandemic by announcing improved results for its vaccine.

Europe meanwhile remains the hardest-hit region, accounting for 46 percent of new global cases and 49% of deaths last week, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Its figures additionally showed the only region where cases and deaths declined last week was Southeast Asia. Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have died of Covid-19 and over 55 million have been reported infected with the virus since it first surfaced in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

In Switzerland, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, the Swiss Society for Intensive Care Medicine (SSMI) warned that intensive care units “are practically all full.” More beds have been added, and the Swiss military has been called in to support efforts in several areas. Many European countries are extending heavy restrictions on daily life in attempts to curb the spread of the virus. A French government spokesman said authorities are unlikely to lift a partial lockdown any time soon while Portugal’s government was preparing to extend measures for two more weeks.

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