US coronavirus deaths take long-expected turn for the worse

The virus has killed more than 130,000 people in the US.

Face masks
Face masks

A long-expected upturn in US coronavirus deaths has begun, driven by fatalities in states in the south and west of the country, new data shows.

The number of deaths per day from the virus had been falling for months in America, and even remained down even as states like Florida and Texas saw explosions in cases and hospital admissions, while reported daily US infections broke records several times in recent days.

However, experts had predicted states that saw increases in cases and hospital admissions would eventually see deaths rise too, with fatalities typically taking place several weeks after a person is first infected. Those predictions appear to be accurate.

A test site
A health care worker administers a Covid-19 test in South Florida (AP)

William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher, said: “It’s consistently picking up. And it’s picking up at the time you’d expect it to.”

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily reported deaths in the US has increased from 578 two weeks ago to 664 on July 10 – still well below the heights hit in April.

Daily reported deaths increased in 27 states over that time period, but the majority of those states are averaging under 15 new deaths per day. A smaller group of states has been driving the nationwide increase in deaths.

Outbreak in India
Health workers prepare to screen for coronavirus in Mumbai (AP)

California is averaging 91 reported deaths per day while Texas is close behind with 66, but Florida, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey and South Carolina also saw sizeable rises.

New Jersey’s recent jump is thought to be partially attributable to its less frequent reporting of probable deaths.

The virus has killed more than 130,000 people in the US and more than half a million worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true numbers are believed to be higher.

Elsewhere, it emerged South Africa’s confirmed cases have doubled in two weeks to a quarter of a million, while India has seen its biggest daily spike as its total passed 800,000.

Inequality concerns are growing, as health workers seek better protection while some among the wealthy are hoarding equipment at home.

Global coronavirus cases and deaths
(PA Graphics)

Shortages of testing materials and poor data collection in some countries mean the true numbers are unknown.

Some of the worst-affected nations are among the world’s most unequal.

In Johannesburg at South Africa’s epicentre, badly-needed oxygen concentrators, which help people with Covid-19 breathe, are hard to find as private businesses and individuals are buying them up, according to public health specialist Lynne Wilkinson, who volunteers at a field hospital.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s struggling public hospitals are short on medical oxygen – and they are now seeing a higher proportion of deaths than in private ones, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said.

A pupil’s hands are sanitised on returning to school in Johannesburg
A pupil’s hands are sanitised on returning to school in Johannesburg (Denis Farrell/AP)

South Africa now has more than 250,000 confirmed cases, including more than 3,800 deaths.

To complicate matters, the country’s struggling power utility has announced new electricity cuts in the dead of winter as a cold front brings freezing weather. Many of the urban poor live in shacks of scrap metal and wood.

And in Kenya, some have been outraged by a local newspaper report citing sources as saying several governors have installed intensive care unit equipment in their homes. The country lost its first doctor to Covid-19 this week.

“The welfare, occupational safety & health of frontline workers is a non-negotiable minimum,” the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union tweeted after her death. On Saturday, the union and other medical groups called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to implement a promised compensation package to ease the “anxiety and fear that has now gripped healthcare workers”.

More than 8,000 health workers across Africa have been infected, half of them in South Africa.

The continent of 1.3 billion has the world’s lowest levels of health staffing and more than 550,000 cases, and the pandemic is reaching “full speed,” the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Many parts of the world are now struggling with trying to reopen their economies and facing a fresh wave of infections.

In India, which reported a new daily high of 27,114 cases on Saturday, nearly a dozen states have imposed a partial lockdown in high-risk areas. A surge in infections saw cases jumping from 600,000 to more than 800,000 in nine days. The total is now 820,916.

Health workers wearing protective clothing arrive to screen people for Covid-19 symptoms at a slum in Mumbai, India
Health workers wearing protective clothing arrive to screen people for Covid-19 symptoms at a slum in Mumbai, India (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

Infected people are packing India’s public hospitals as many are unable to afford private ones that generally maintain higher standards of care.

Officials on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa said dozens of marines have been infected at two US bases in what is feared to be a “massive outbreak”. The officials said the US military had asked that the exact figure not be released.

“We now have strong doubts that the US military has taken adequate disease prevention measures,” prefecture governor Denny Tamaki said.

In Australia, the beleaguered state of Victoria received some good news with health officials reporting 216 new cases in the past 24 hours, down from the record 288 the previous day. It hopes a new six-week lockdown in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city with a population of 5 million, will curb the spread.

And in Latin America, where inequality is sharp and Brazil and Peru are among the world’s five most badly hit countries, the Covid-19 pandemic is sweeping through the continent’s leadership, with two more presidents and powerful officials testing positive in the past week.

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