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US virus deaths pass 40,000 as Trump, states clash over restrictions

World

The US coronavirus death toll has doubled to more than 40,000 in nine days, with states pushing back against White House pressure to lift restrictions and let businesses reopen.

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A tally from Johns Hopkins University shows the US has doubled the 20,000 deaths it recorded on April 11, making it the hardest-hit country with nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths globally.

The US now has over 742,000 confirmed cases, though testing shortages persist.

Governors in US states hardest hit by the novel coronavirus have clashed with President Donald Trump over claims they have enough tests and should quickly reopen their economies.

More than 22 million Americans have registered for unemployment benefits in the past month as restrictions were imposed.

“The administration I think is trying to ramp up testing, they are doing some things with respect to private labs,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said.

“But to try to push this off, to say the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren’t doing our jobs, is absolutely false.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said claims by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that states have plenty of tests were “just delusional”.

Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC are still seeing increasing cases even as the epicentre of the US outbreak, New York, has started to see declines.

The state of New York reported 507 coronavirus deaths and 1384 hospitalisations on Saturday, down from 540 deaths and 1915 admissions the previous day.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday all indications are “we are on a descent” in the COVID-19 outbreak but “it is no time to relax”.

Boston and Chicago are also emerging hotspots with recent surges in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Several states, including Ohio, Texas and Florida, have said they aim to reopen parts of their economies, perhaps by May 1 or even sooner, but appear to be staying cautious.

Trump’s guidelines to reopen the economy recommend a state record 14 days of declining case numbers before gradually lifting restrictions.

Yet the president appeared to encourage protesters who want the measures removed sooner, with a series of Twitter posts on Friday calling for them to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia.

Demonstrations to demand an end to stay-at-home measures that have pummelled the US economy have erupted in a few spots in Texas, Wisconsin and the capitals of Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.

US lawmakers are close to an agreement on approving extra money to help small businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic and could seal a deal as early as Sunday, congressional and Trump administration officials said.

Wuhan lab denies it created pandemic virus

Meanwhile, The head of the Institute of Virology in the Chinese city of Wuhan has rejected US allegations that the novel coronavirus could have originated in his laboratory.

“There’s no way this virus came out from us,” said Yuan Zhiming in an interview with state television, the English language transcript of which was published by Chinese media on Sunday.

“We clearly know what kind of virus research is going on in the institute and how the institute manages viruses and samples,” he added.

None of the laboratory staff had been infected with the coronavirus, the director said, adding that he understood why people had jumped to conclusions about his institute in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic originated.

“But it’s bad when some are deliberately trying to mislead people,” said Yuan Zhiming. “I know it’s impossible,” he added. “This is entirely based on speculation.”

The lab director also contested the thesis, already rejected by scientists, that the virus could have been originally generated in the laboratory.

“There is no evidence to prove that the virus has artificial or synthetic traces,” he said.

His comments came the day after Trump said the US was investigating whether the virus could have originated in the Wuhan lab. “It seems to make sense,” he said.

The first infections with the coronavirus were linked with an animal market in Wuhan. Experts believe the virus comes from bats and might also have been spread via another host animal.

-with AAP

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