Grim milestone as infections top 5m

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 22 May 2020

Global infections from the coronavirus topped five million yesterday as the pandemic played out unevenly, with China eager to declare a victory, Europe emerging from its shell and deaths rising in hotspots in Latin America.

The grim milestone is only a fraction of the true number of infections from a virus that has claimed more than 328,000 lives.

And while many European countries have halted a rise in cases, Latin America is in the grip of an infection surge.

Brazil leads the pack, logging the third highest number of cases in the world after the United States and Russia.

But Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to scorn expert advice on measures, pressing regional governors to end stay-at-home rules.

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

Trump, for his part, insists the United States is "transitioning back to greatness" as states reopen.

His words jar with the bleak situation in the country, which leads the world in cases and deaths.

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

Trump, desperate to boost his fortunes ahead of the November election, has also doubled down on his finger-pointing at China, who he blamed for "mass worldwide killing."

Beijing tells a different story, with President Xi Jinping determined to project a success story over the outbreak that started in China late last year before wreaking havoc globally.

Although China has faced criticism of its initial handling of the crisis, the country has by official count reduced domestic cases to a trickle and kept deaths far lower than in worst-hit countries.

And the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference this week after months of delay over virus fears give leaders a chance to repeat the narrative of beating the virus and aiding other countries.

Meantime, the race to develop a vaccine has been buoyed by experiments on monkeys that offer hope humans can develop immunity to the virus.

One study looks at a prototype vaccine and another at whether infection with Covid-19 confers protection against reexposure.

While a full return to normal life is pegged to the development of a treatment or vaccine, many countries are learning to live with danger.

In Spain, emerging from one of the toughest lockdowns, masks have been made mandatory for anyone aged six and over when social distancing is not possible. "It gives me a sense of security," said Madrid teacher Cristina Quevedo.

Once the epicenter of the pandemic, much of Europe is rolling back restrictions with the number of new cases and deaths declining.

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