U.S. CDC reports 205,372 coronavirus deaths

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday reported 7,168,077 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 38,764 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 774 to 205,372.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on Sept. 29, compared with its previous report a day earlier.

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Trisha Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

Height of fashion? Clothes mountains build up as recycling breaks down

By Sonya Dowsett and George Obulutsa

MADRID/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Clothes recycling is the pressure-release valve of fast fashion, and it’s breaking under COVID-19 curbs.

The multi-billion-dollar trade in second-hand clothing helps prevent the global fashion industry’s growing pile of waste going straight to landfill, while keeping wardrobes clear for next season’s designs. But it’s facing a crisis.

Exporters are struggling, as are traders and customers in often poorer nations from Africa to Eastern Europe and Latin America who rely on a steady supply of used clothes.

The signs are everywhere.

From London to Los Angeles, many thrift shops and clothing banks outside stores and on streets have been deluged with more clothes than could be sold on, leading to mountains of garments building up in sorting warehouses.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began early this year, textile recyclers and exporters have had to cut their prices to shift stock as lockdown measures restrict movement and business slows in end markets abroad. For many, it’s no longer commercially viable and they can’t afford to move merchandise.

“We are reaching the point where our warehouses are completely full,” Antonio de Carvalho, boss of a textile recycling company in Stourbridge, central England, wrote to a client in June, asking for a price cut for clothes he collects.

De Carvalho pays towns for clothing collected in his containers then sells it on at profit to traders overseas.

Since May, he said, the price he has been able to charge overseas buyers had dropped from 570 pounds ($726) a tonne to 400 pounds, making it hard for his company, Green World Recycling, to cover the costs of collecting and storing items.

Buyers were also asking to increase the credit periods before they had to pay from 15 days to 45-60 days, adding to cash-flow problems, de Carvalho wrote.

“We are losing … a huge amount of money, making a big loss for the operation.”

‘GOING OUT OF BUSINESS’

De Carvalho’s experience is mirrored across the sector, suggesting that, even once the pandemic passes, the battered trade could take a long time to recover.

Recyclers are removing clothes banks from streets, reducing the number of times they are emptied per week and looking at laying off workers to conserve cash, according to Reuters interviews with 16 market players in Britain, the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.

At the same time, in a bleak irony for such firms, donations have mounted as people stuck at home clear out their wardrobes – a boon in normal times.

“This is unlike any other recession in a century,” said Jackie King, executive director of U.S. trade body the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART). “I would anticipate there will be companies going out of business.”

The retreat of recyclers is having far-reaching consequences for an industry that has seen an annual average of more than $4 billion of used clothing exported globally over the five years to 2019, according to U.N. trade data.

Exports have shrunk this year.

In Britain, the weight of used clothing exported from March to July was around half what it was for the same period last year, official trade data shows. Exports improved in July – the latest month on record – as merchants rushed to shift stock as countries began to re-open, but were still down around 30%.

In the United States, the value of exports from March to July fell 45% compared with the same period last year, government data shows.

Up to a third of clothes donated in the United States – the world’s biggest exporter of used clothing – ends up for sale in markets in the developing world.

KENYAN WOES

The consequences of the decline can be seen in countries like Kenya, which imported 176,000 tonnes of second-hand clothing in 2018, equivalent to over 335 million pairs of jeans.

Business is sluggish in the open-air Gikomba market in Nairobi, one of the biggest second-hand clothes market in East Africa. Shop assistants stand idle while traders call out to shoppers asking them to try their garments

Traders have been hit with a double-whammy of the shrinking supply, exacerbated by the government banning the import of used textiles in March on concerns they could carry the novel coronavirus, and a drop in footfall due to people staying home.

“Before coronavirus came in, I would manage to sell at least 50 (pairs of) trousers a day,” said trader Nicholas Mutisya, who sells jeans and hats. “But now with coronavirus, even selling one a day has become difficult.”

“We cannot buy bales (of clothes) directly, so we buy our stock from those who have already bought them.”

The ban on used textiles imports was lifted in August after pushback from traders in Kenya and industry bodies in Europe and the United States who said second-hand clothes were safe as the virus could not survive the journey to Africa.

Yet the struggle continues for traders like Mutisya and Anthony Kang’ethe, who works as a driver for a shop selling second-hand clothes in bales shipped from Britain. He said the business had been hit hard by the supply crunch.

“Before we used to have five workers in our company,” Kang’ethe said. “We are left with two.”

DARK SIDE OF FASHION

Large-scale commercial trade in second-hand clothing from Europe and the United States to emerging markets took off in a big way in the 1990s due to growing African and Eastern European demand for Western fashion.

Such demand has provided a badly needed release value for a booming fashion market, where clothing production has approximately doubled over the past 15 years, according to sustainability charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, the U.N.’s environment program said in March 2019.

Meanwhile, clothes account for a massive, and growing, pile of waste that ends up in landfills.

In Britain, shoppers buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe, amounting to some five times more than what they bought in the 1980s, according to a 2019 UK parliamentary report by the Environmental Audit Committee.

About 300,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill or incineration per year, the report said.

The United States produces just under 17 million U.S. tons (15.4 tonnes) of textile waste per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency – equivalent to around 29 billion pairs of jeans. Two-thirds of this ends up in landfills.

Many fashion retailers, including Zara owner Inditex and H&M, encourage shoppers to bring unwanted textiles to their stores for collection and, in the case of H&M, even offer discounts on new purchases in exchange.

Only a small proportion of clothes collected by Inditex end up for sale in international markets, a company spokesman said. H&M said clothing collected in its stores was processed by I:CO, a unit of German textile recycling company Soex.

“The whole problem is just getting bigger,” said Anna Smith, a doctoral researcher at King’s College London looking at a so-called circular economic system, which aims to eliminate waste.

“People are consuming more and more.”

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm; Editing by Pravin Char)

Kuwait bids farewell to late ruler and pillar of Arab diplomacy as new emir takes over

By Ahmed Hagagy

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait on Wednesday laid to rest late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a Gulf Arab elder statesman who helped steer his nation through some of the region’s most turbulent decades, in funeral rites closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns.

The only leader of fellow Gulf Arab states in attendance was the emir of Qatar, which has been boycotted by Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, in a dispute that Sheikh Sabah, 91, tried until his death to resolve.

His successor and brother, Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, 83, headed the rites after being sworn in at parliament, pledging to work for the OPEC member state’s prosperity, stability and security.

“Our dear nation today faces difficult situations and dangerous challenges that can only be overcome … by unifying ranks and working hard together,” he told the National Assembly.

Sheikh Nawaf takes the reins of the small wealthy nation, which holds the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves, at a time when low crude prices and the coronavirus have strained the finances of a country with a cradle-to-grave welfare system.

His succession is not expected to change oil or investment policy and he is seen maintaining a foreign policy that saw Kuwait balance ties with larger neighbors Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

Dignitaries from around the world paid respects to Sheikh Sabah, a seasoned diplomat and savvy politician widely respected as a humanitarian who strove to heal rifts in the Middle East, mending ties with former occupier Iraq and championing the Palestinian cause.

“He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the humanitarian cause,” Britain’s Queen Elizabeth said in a statement tweeted by Buckingham Palace.

“DIFFICULT TIMES”

Sheikh Sabah, who died on Tuesday in the United States were he was hospitalized since July, had ruled the U.S.-allied country since 2006, and steered its foreign policy for over 50 years.

Sheikh Nawaf was at the airport when the plane brought the body back home, wrapped in a white shroud and the Kuwaiti flag.

Sheikh Sabah was buried in Sulaibikhat cemetery alongside his kin, after prayers at Bilal bin Rabah mosque where mourners, including Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, all wore face masks.

The UAE said it was represented by its deputy premier, who is also interior minister, and the minister of tolerance and coexistence, both members of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.

When Kuwait’s previous emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, died in 2006, thousands of Kuwaitis attended the funeral and many, along with expatriates, lined the streets.

“I am sure all the men would have loved to go … and we as women would have loved to somehow pay tribute to our emir,” Khadija, a Kuwaiti fitness instructor, told Reuters.

“I wish we could have young leadership and new visions … I want to see change in our economy, education, and implementation of many promises that didn’t take place,” she said, adding that other Gulf states saw change under a new generation of leaders.

Sheikh Nawaf, who lacks the diplomatic skills of his predecessor, is likely to focus on domestic matters such as naming a crown prince who would manage ties with a parliament that has often clashed with the government and hindered economic reform efforts, diplomats and analysts say.

Under the constitution, the emir chooses the crown prince but traditionally the ruling family, some of whose senior members have been jostling for the position, convenes a meeting to build consensus. Parliament also has to approve the choice.

“I don’t expect big change under Sheikh Nawaf. We have big problems and some may be resolved but I’m not very optimistic,” said Mohammed Abu Ghanem, a 45-year-old Kuwaiti.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy, Dahlia Nehme, Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

U.N. chief: time for national plans to help fund global COVID-19 vaccine effort

By Michelle Nichols and Stephanie Nebehay

NEW YORK/GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. chief Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday it is time for countries to start using money from their national COVID-19 response to help fund a global vaccine plan as the World Bank warned that “broad, rapid and affordable access” to those doses will be at the core of a resilient global economic recovery.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX facility – led by the World Health Organization and GAVI vaccine alliance – has received $3 billion, but needs another $35 billion. It aims to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021, 245 million treatments and 500 million tests.

At a high-level virtual U.N. event on the program, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the financing gap was less than 1% of what the world’s 20 largest economies (G20) had committed to domestic stimulus packages and “it’s roughly equivalent to what the world spends on cigarettes every two weeks.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged $100 million to GAVI to help poorer countries gain access to a vaccine and Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Alex Gorsky committed 500 million vaccine doses for low-income countries with delivery starting in mid-2021.

“Having access to lifesaving COVID diagnostics, therapeutics or vaccines … shouldn’t depend on where you live, whether you’re rich or poor,” said Gorsky, adding that while Johnson & Johnson is “acting at an unprecedented scale and speed, but we are not for a minute cutting corners on safety.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has said that a vaccine against the virus might be ready before the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, raising questions about whether political pressure might result in the deployment of a vaccine before it is safe.

“We remain 100 percent committed to high ethical and scientific principles,” Gorsky said.

GAVI Chief Executive Seth Berkley said that so far 168 countries, including 76 self-financing states, have joined the COVAX global vaccines facility. Tedros said this represented 70% of the world’s population, adding: “The list is growing every day.”

China, Russia and the United States have not joined the facility, although WHO officials have said they are still holding talks with China about signing up. The United States has reached its own deals with vaccine developers.

‘LONG HAUL’

World Bank President David Malpass said the pandemic could push 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021 and the “negative impact on human capital will be deep and may last decades.”

“Broad, rapid and affordable access to COVID vaccines will be at the core of a resilient global economic recovery that lifts everyone,” he said.

Guterres said that the ACT-Accelerator was the only safe and certain way to reopen the global economy quickly.

But he warned that the program needed an immediate injection of $15 billion to “avoid losing the window of opportunity” for advance purchase and production, to build stocks in parallel with licensing, boost research, and help countries prepare.

“We cannot allow a lag in access to further widen already vast inequalities,” Guterres said.

“But let’s be clear: We will not get there with donors simply allocating resources only from the Official Development Assistance budget,” he said. “It is time for countries to draw funding from their own response and recovery programs.”

U.N. Secretary-General Guterres called on all countries to step up significantly in the next three months.

Billionaire Bill Gates told the U.N. event that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had signed an agreement with 16 pharmaceutical companies on Wednesday.

“In this agreement the companies commit to, among other things, scaling up manufacturing, at an unprecedented speed, and making sure that approved vaccines reach broad distribution as early as possible,” Gates said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – a co-host of the meeting along with Guterres, the WHO and South Africa – urged other countries to join the global effort, saying the ACT-Accelerator is the best hope of bringing the pandemic under control.

Said Merkel: “We’re in for the long haul and we need more support.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

Meatpackers deny workers benefits for COVID-19 deaths, illnesses

By Tom Hals and Tom Polansek

(Reuters) – Saul Sanchez died in April, one of six workers with fatal COVID-19 infections at meatpacker JBS USA’s slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colorado, the site of one of the earliest and deadliest coronavirus outbreaks at a U.S. meatpacking plant.

Before getting sick, the 78-year-old Sanchez only left home to work on the fabrication line, where cattle carcasses are sliced into cuts of beef, and to go to his church, with its five-person congregation, said his daughter, Betty Rangel. She said no one else got infected in the family or at Bible Missionary Church, which could not be reached for comment.

JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, denied the family’s application for workers’ compensation benefits, along with those filed by the families of two other Greeley workers who died of COVID-19, said lawyers handling the three claims. Families of the three other Greeley workers who died also sought compensation, a union representative said, but Reuters could not determine the status of their claims.

JBS has said the employees’ COVID-19 infections were not work-related in denying the claims, according to responses the company gave to employees, which were reviewed by Reuters.

As more Americans return to workplaces, the experience of JBS employees shows the difficulty of linking infections to employment and getting compensation for medical care and lost wages.

“That is the ultimate question: How can you prove it?” said Nick Fogel, an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation at the firm Burg Simpson in Colorado.

The meatpacking industry has suffered severe coronavirus outbreaks, in part because production-line workers often work side-by-side for long shifts. Companies including JBS, Tyson Foods Inc and WH Group Ltd’s Smithfield Foods closed about 20 plants this spring after outbreaks, prompting President Donald Trump in April to order the plants to stay open to ensure the nation’s meat supply. The White House declined to comment on the industry’s rejections of workers’ claims. The U.S. Department of Labor did not respond to a request for comment.

Tyson has also denied workers’ compensation claims stemming from a big outbreak in Iowa, workers’ attorneys told Reuters. Smithfield workers at a plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, also hit by a major outbreak, have generally not filed claims, a union official said, in part because the company has paid infected workers’ wages and medical bills.

Smithfield declined to comment on workers’ compensation. Tyson said it reviews claims on a case-by-case basis, but declined to disclose how often it rejects them. JBS acknowledged rejecting claims but declined to say how often. It called the denials consistent with the law, without elaborating.

Workers can challenge companies’ denials in an administrative process that varies by state but typically resembles a court hearing. The burden of proof, however, usually falls on the worker to prove a claim was wrongfully denied.

The full picture of how the meatpacking industry has handled COVID-related workers’ compensation remains murky because of a lack of national claims data. Reuters requested data from seven states where JBS or its affiliates have plants that had coronavirus outbreaks. Only three states provided data in any detail; all show a pattern of rejections.

In Minnesota, where JBS had a major outbreak, meatpacking employees filed 930 workers’ compensation claims involving COVID-19 as of Sept. 11, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. None were accepted, 717 were rejected and 213 were under review. The agency did not identify the employers.

The Minnesota Department of Health said only two meatpacking plants there had significant coronavirus outbreaks: a JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, and a poultry plant in Cold Spring run by Pilgrim’s Pride Corp <PPC.O>, which is majority-owned by JBS.

Tom Atkinson, a Minnesota workers’ compensation attorney who has represented meatpacking workers, estimates up to 100 COVID-19 claims were filed by employees at the Worthington plant.

In Utah, seven JBS workers filed claims related to COVID-19 by Aug. 1 and all were denied, according to the state’s Labor Commission. At least 385 workers at a JBS beef plant in Hyrum, Utah, tested positive for COVID-19.

In Colorado, 69% of the 2,294 worker compensation claims for COVID-19 had been denied as of Sept. 12. Although the state does not break down the denials by industry, a JBS spokesman told Reuters the company is rejecting claims in Colorado and that it uses the same claim-review procedures nationwide.

JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett did not answer the question of whether JBS employees were infected on the job and declined comment on individual workers’ claims. He said the company has outsourced claim reviews to a third-party administrator.

“Given the widespread nature of viral spread, our third-party claims administrator reviews each case thoroughly and independently,” said Bruett.

The administrator, Sedgwick, did not respond to a request for comment. Bruett, also a spokesman for Pilgrim’s Pride, did not respond to questions about infections and claims at its Minnesota plant.

At the JBS plant in Greeley, where Sanchez worked before he died, at least 291 of about 6,000 workers were infected, according to state data. The company, in its written response to the family’s claim, said that his infection was “not work-related,” without spelling out its reasoning. The two sides are now litigating the matter in Colorado’s workers’ compensation system.

Under Colorado law, a workers’ compensation death benefit provides about two-thirds of the deceased worker’s salary to the surviving spouse and pays medical expenses not covered by insurance. If JBS had not denied the Sanchez family’s claim, that would have provided his widow a steady income and paid uncovered medical bills totaling about $10,000, according to his daughter.

“They don’t care,” Rangel said of JBS. “They are all about the big profits, and they are not going to give any money out.”

MASS INFECTIONS, LITTLE COMPENSATION

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents 250,000 U.S. meatpacking and food-processing workers, said last week at least 122 meatpacking workers have died of COVID-19 and more than 18,000 had missed work because they were infected or potentially exposed.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said on Sept. 11 that it had cited JBS for failing to protect workers at the Greeley plant from the virus. OSHA cited Smithfield this month for failing to protect workers at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant, where the agency said nearly 1,300 workers contracted the coronavirus and four died.

Smithfield and JBS said the citations had no merit because they concerned conditions in plants before OSHA issued COVID-19 guidance for the industry. OSHA said it stands by the citations.

Workers’ compensation is generally the only way to recoup medical expenses and lost wages for work-related injuries and deaths. The system protects employers from lawsuits, with few exceptions, and allows workers to collect benefits without having to prove fault or negligence. But the system was designed for factory accidents, not airborne illnesses.

In response to the coronavirus, governors and lawmakers in at least 14 states have made it easier for some employees to collect workers compensation for COVID-19 by putting the burden on companies and insurers to prove an infection did not occur at work. But most of the changes, which vary by state, only apply to workers in healthcare or emergency services. A similar proposal failed to gain support in Colorado.

Mark Dopp, general counsel for the North American Meat Institute, a trade association that represents meatpackers, said it is difficult to determine where workers get infections given extensive sanitation efforts taken by meat plants and workers’ daily travel to and from the plants.

Tyson in April closed its Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Ben Roth, a local workers’ compensation attorney, said five families of employees who died filed workers compensation claims for death benefits, and all were denied.

He said meat-processing companies have an incentive to deny every claim because admitting they caused even one infection can expose the firms to liability for all workers contracting COVID-19.

“That undercuts the argument that they want to make across the board: that you can’t prove you got it here and not at a grocery store,” Roth said.

Tyson said it follows state laws for workers’ compensation. The company noted that Iowa law states that disease with an equal likelihood of being contracted outside the workplace are “not compensable as an occupational disease.”

In Colorado, Sylvia Martinez runs a group called Latinos Unidos of Greeley and said she knows of more than 20 JBS workers who applied for workers compensation and were denied. Many plant workers are not native English speakers and sought out her group for guidance, she said, adding that many don’t understand their rights and fear being fired. The company’s rejections have discouraged more claims, Martinez said.

“If you deny five or 10, those workers will tell their co-workers,” she said.

‘WHO IS GOING TO HIRE HIM?’

JBS also contested the claim of Alfredo Hernandez, 55, a custodian who worked at the Greeley plant for 31 years. He became infected and was hospitalized in March. He still relies on supplemental oxygen and hasn’t returned to work, said his wife, Rosario Hernandez.

Generall y, companies approve claims if it looks probable that an employee was injured or sickened at work, said Erika Alverson, the attorney representing Hernandez. But JBS, she said, is arguing workers could have contracted COVID-19 anywhere.

“They’re getting into, where did our clients go, what were they doing during that time, who was coming into their house, what did their spouse do, was there any other form of exposure?” said Alverson, of the Denver firm Alverson and O’Brien.

A judge will decide the Hernandez case in an administrative hearing. In the meantime, the Hernandez family has only his disability benefits – a portion of his salary – to cover his medical and insurance costs, Rosario Hernandez said.

“We’re getting bunches of bills,” she said.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

Coronavirus deaths rise above a million in ‘agonizing’ global milestone

By Jane Wardell

(Reuters) – The global coronavirus death toll rose past a million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim statistic in a pandemic that has devastated the global economy, overloaded health systems and changed the way people live.

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus this year is now double the number of people who die annually from malaria – and the death rate has increased in recent weeks as infections surge in several countries.

“Our world has reached an agonizing milestone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

“It’s a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.”

It took just three months for COVID-19 deaths to double from half a million, an accelerating rate of fatalities since the first death was recorded in China in early January.

More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to Reuters calculations based on September averages, overwhelming funeral businesses and cemeteries.

That equates to about 226 people an hour, or one person every 16 seconds. In the time it takes to watch a 90-minute soccer match, 340 people die on average.

(Reuters interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2VqS5PS)

“So many people have lost so many people and haven’t had the chance to say goodbye,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“…Many, many of the people who died died alone in medical circumstances where it’s a terribly difficult and lonely death.”

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world had to unite to fight the virus.

“History will judge us on the decisions we do and don’t make in the months ahead,” he said in the Independent newspaper.

INFECTIONS RISING

Experts remain concerned that the official figures for deaths and cases globally significantly under-represent the real tally because of inadequate testing and recording and the possibility of concealment by some countries.

The response to the pandemic has pitted proponents of health measures like lockdowns against those intent on sustaining politically sensitive economic growth, with approaches differing from country to country.

The United States, Brazil and India, which together account for nearly 45% of all COVID-19 deaths globally, have all lifted social distancing measures in recent weeks.

“The American people should anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned on Monday. U.S. deaths stood at 205,132 and cases at 7.18 million by late Monday.

India, meanwhile, has recorded the highest daily growth in infections in the world, with an average of 87,500 new cases a day since the beginning of September.

On current trends, India will overtake the United States as the country with the most confirmed cases by the end of the year, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pushes ahead with easing lockdown measures in a bid to support a struggling economy.

Despite the surge in cases, India’s death toll of 96,318, and pace of growth of fatalities, remains below those of the United States, Britain and Brazil. India on Tuesday reported its smallest rise in deaths since Aug. 3, continuing a recent easing trend that has baffled experts.

In Europe, which accounts for nearly 25% of deaths, the WHO has warned of a worrying spread in western Europe just weeks away from the winter flu season.

The WHO has also warned the pandemic still needs major control interventions amid rising cases in Latin America, where many countries have started to resume normal life.

Much of Asia, the first region affected by the pandemic, is experiencing a relative lull after emerging from a second wave.

The high number of deaths has led to changes burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest, while in Iraq former militiamen dropped their guns to dig graves at a specially created cemetery and learned how to conduct both Christian and Muslim burials.

In some parts of Indonesia, bereaved families have barged into hospitals to claim bodies, fearing their relatives might not be given a proper burial.

The United States, Indonesia, Bolivia, South Africa and Yemen have all had to locate new burial sites as cemeteries fill up.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; additional reporting by Shaina Ahluwalia, Seerat Gupta and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Chicago mayor loosens COVID-related capacity restrictions for businesses including bars, restaurants

(Reuters) – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday loosened COVID-19-related capacity restrictions for businesses such as bars, restaurants and health clubs, a move that will go into effect later this week.

The new guidelines, which will take effect on Thursday, will increase indoor capacity to 40% for certain businesses, reopen bars for indoor service and increase maximum group sizes for fitness classes and after-school programming, a statement from the mayor’s office said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. CDC reports 204,328 coronavirus deaths

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday reported 7,095,422 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 36,335 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 295 to 204,328.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 27, compared with its previous report a day earlier.

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise in 27 states for two straight weeks

(Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has risen for two weeks in a row in 27 out of 50 states, with North Carolina and New Mexico both reporting increases above 50% last week, according to a Reuters analysis.

The United States recorded 316,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 27, up 10% from the previous seven days and the highest in six weeks, according to the analysis of state and county data.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told ABC News that the country was “not in a good place.”

“There are states that are starting to show (an) uptick in cases and even some increases in hospitalizations in some states. And, I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths,” he said, without naming the states.

North Carolina reported a 60% jump in new cases to 13,799 last week, while New Mexico saw new infections rise 55% to 1,265. Texas also reported a 60% jump in new cases to 49,559, though that included a backlog of several thousand cases.

Deaths from COVID-19 have generally declined for the past six weeks, though still stand at more than 5,000 lives lost a week. Deaths are a lagging indicator and generally rise weeks after a surge in cases.

Testing in the country set a record of over 880,000 tests a day, surpassing the previous high in July of 820,000.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 held steady at about 5%, well below a recent peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, 28 states have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are 26% in South Dakota, 21% in Idaho and 19% in Wisconsin.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

Poorer countries to get 120 million $5 coronavirus tests, WHO says

GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – Some 120 million rapid diagnostic tests for coronavirus will be made available to low- and middle-income countries at a maximum of $5 per unit, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor had agreed with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “make 120 million of these new, highly portable and easy-to-use rapid COVID-19 diagnostic tests available over a period of six months”.

He told a news conference in Geneva the tests were currently priced at a maximum of $5 each but were expected to become cheaper.

“This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have laboratory facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out tests,” Tedros said.

“This is a vital addition to the testing capacity and especially important in areas of high transmission.”

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Kevin Liffey)