U.S. marks hushed Memorial Day holiday as virus deaths near 100,000

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans paid a low-key tribute to those who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces on Monday, with many Memorial Day events canceled because of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed nearly 100,000 people in the United States alone.

In some places, scaled-down ceremonies were broadcast over the internet, as shutdowns to curb the spread of the virus put a damper on what is usually a day of flag-waving parades and crowds celebrating the unofficial start of the U.S. summer.

Spots that would be bustling on a normal Memorial holiday had noticeably thinner crowds.

Perhaps half of those gathered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington wore face coverings, recommended as one way to fight infection. Only about one in 10 did so on the boardwalk by the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

With casinos closed, nearby Atlantic City was quiet.

Richard Burke, who bought a balloon-popping amusement stand on the boardwalk only a few weeks before the shutdown, was asking customers to use the hand sanitizer he had provided.

“As long as we protect ourselves I think we are OK,” Burke said.

All 50 states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions to some degree.

Health authorities in California, which has one of the most restrictive coronavirus containment rules in the country, announced on Monday that retail with in-store shopping and places of worship may now open.

In Fort Walton Beach, Florida, a small group of veterans in uniform gathered in Beal Memorial Cemetery to recite the names of the dead and weave flowers into a wreath in a ceremony that was streamed online. Some of the attendees shook hands with each other and few, if any, wore masks.

“Instead of parades or large memorial events, we can remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in a more private way,” Colonel John Sannes, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, told the gathering.

Inside the rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, a candle was lit and veterans took turns, two at a time, to silently stand sentry on either side of a wreath over the course of a 12-hour live-streamed ceremony.

In New York City, organizers of a usually large parade on Staten Island instead arranged to have a smaller convoy of vehicles drive the route. Governor Andrew Cuomo took part in a brief ceremony at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum aboard an aircraft carrier in New York City’s Hudson River.

Republican President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for initially playing down the threat posed by the coronavirus, participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, their wives, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, among others.

Trump, who is eager to have the pandemic-stricken economy in at least somewhat better shape to bolster his chances of winning re-election in the Nov. 3 vote, did not wear a mask during his visit to the cemetery in Virginia.

Joe Biden, the prospective Democratic presidential nominee, made his first public appearance outside his Delaware home since quarantining himself 10 weeks ago. He and his wife Jill, both wearing black masks, laid a wreath of white roses at a nearby veterans memorial.

U.S. economic activity in April ground to a virtual standstill and more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs due to the lockdowns imposed in March.

Total cases in the United States of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have reached more than 1.66 million, the highest in the world, and 97,971 people have died, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Mike McCoy in Washington and Jessica Kourkounis in Atlantic City; Writing by Paul Simao and Grant McCool; Editing by Tom Brown and Sonya Hepinstall)

Cyclone kills at least 82 in India, Bangladesh, causes widespread flooding

By Ruma Paul and and Subrata Nagchoudhury

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – The most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade killed at least 82 people, officials said, as rescue teams scoured devastated coastal villages, hampered by torn down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land.

Mass evacuations organized by authorities before Cyclone Amphan made landfall undoubtedly saved countless lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.

In the Indian state of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had perished – most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185 km per hour (115 mph).

In neighboring Bangladesh, the initial toll was put at 10.

“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world. All I could do was to pray… Almighty Allah saved us,” Azgar Ali, 49, a resident of Satkhira district on the Bangladesh coast told Reuters.

Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a senior police official in the area said the storm tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines and left many villages inundated.

When the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday the storm surge of around five meters resulted in flooding across the low-lying coastal areas.

Reuters Television footage shot in West Bengal showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. More images showed villagers trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauling their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lying strewn across the countryside.

Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a tweet expressing concern over the people suffering in West Bengal.

“Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he said.

Concern was growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.

“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin-roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.

Over on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 5,000 people live, had been washed away, and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.

“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night, the official, Sanjib Sagar, told Reuters.

MASS EVACUATIONS

Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck. But the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.

The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay underwater and several neighborhoods in the city of 14 million people have had no electricity since the storm struck, according to residents.

After the storm passed people were trying to retrieve articles from the rubble of their shops in the city.

Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in the state’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding over half a dozen villages, that were home for more than 100,000 people.

Electricity lines and phone connections were down in many places, but so far no deaths had been reported in this area, he said.

The cyclone came at a time when the two countries are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.

 

(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar, Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

As U.S. states ease restrictions, projected coronavirus death toll rises

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As Georgia lifted a ban on eating in restaurants and a handful of other U.S. states began easing other restrictions aimed at fighting the coronavirus pandemic, scientists warned the death toll would climb if governors reopen businesses prematurely.

The outbreak could take more than 74,000 U.S. lives by August, compared with an earlier forecast of 67,000, according to the University of Washington’s predictive model, often cited by White House officials and state public health authorities.

The university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said late on Monday that the number of U.S. deaths caused by the virus was not abating as quickly as previously projected after hitting a daily peak on April 15 with about 2,700.

IHME director Christopher Murray said the death toll would climb if states reopen their economies too early.

With President Donald Trump’s administration forecasting an unemployment rate of more than 16% for April and residents chafing under stay-at-home orders, states from Alaska to Mississippi are seeking to restart their battered economies despite a lack of large-scale virus testing.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday he would allow the state’s stay-at-home order to expire and begin reopening businesses including restaurants and retail shops in phases beginning on Friday.

The White House released a blueprint on Monday that put the onus on states to implement testing and rapid response programs, despite pleas from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and others for federal help. It said states were responsible for identifying, and overcoming barriers to, efficient testing.

The U.S. government’s role was to “act as supplier of last resort,” the blueprint said. It would provide guidelines for easing restrictions and administering diagnostic tests, while providing technical assistance on how to best use testing technologies and align supplies with anticipated lab needs.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from hard-hit Washington state, on Tuesday criticized the Republican Trump’s testing blueprint as “nothing new.”

“It doesn’t set specific, numeric goals, offer a timeframe, identify ways to fix our broken supply chain, or offer any details whatsoever on expanding lab capacity or activating needed manufacturing capacity,” she said in a statement.

“Perhaps most pathetically, it attempts to shirk obviously federal responsibilities by assigning them solely to states instead,” she said.

After crowds jammed beaches over the weekend in California, Governor Gavin Newsom said social-distancing enforcement would be stepped up.

Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, urged Americans on Monday to go on sheltering in place and maintain social distancing until authorities lift their orders.

“We’re beginning to understand more and more that there may be an inverse relationship for how severe the disease is and your age. So younger people could actually be infected and not know they are infected and unintentionally pass the virus on,” she told Fox News on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Maria Caspani, Editing by Howard Goller)

Death toll reaches 23 from last year’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

(Reuters) – The death toll from a mass shooting last August at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store has climbed to 23 after the last victim left hospitalized from the rampage succumbed to his injuries over the weekend, the hospital said on Sunday.

“After a nearly nine-month fight, our hearts are heavy as we report Guillermo ‘Memo’ Garcia, our last remaining patient being treated from the El Paso shooting, has passed away,” David Shimp, chief executive of Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, said in a statement.

Garcia was a youth soccer coach who was on a fundraising event with his team outside the store on the morning of Aug. 3, 2019, when a man opened fire on shoppers with an AK-47 rifle in a massacre prosecutors have branded an anti-Hispanic hate crime.

About four dozen people were struck by gunfire, and 20 were killed outright. Two more victims died of their wounds two days later.

Garcia had remained hospitalized since the shooting, undergoing several surgeries and spending almost nine months in intensive care before he died on Saturday night. He is survived by his wife, Jessica Coca Garcia, who was also injured in the shooting, and two children.

The accused gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, who police said drove 11 hours from his hometown in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas, to commit the slayings, remains in custody charged with capital murder and federal hate crimes. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Prosecutors said Crusius deliberately targeted people of Mexican heritage in the massacre, citing an anti-immigrant manifesto he allegedly posted online calling the attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

The assault in the Texas border city was followed just 13 hours later by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman killed nine people and wounded 27 others before he was shot dead by police.

The back-to-back massacres sparked a political outcry, with El Paso native and then-Democratic Party presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke demanding the mandatory confiscation of the assault-style rifles often used in mass shootings.

The El Paso shooting also prompted leading Texas Republicans including Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to retreat somewhat on their staunch defense of gun rights.

(This story has been refiled to restore dropped word in headline)

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Washington; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

Global coronavirus cases pass 2.5 million as U.S. tally nears 800,000

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus infections surpassed 2.5 million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, with U.S. cases surpassing 800,000.

The figure includes more than 170,000 deaths, two-thirds of which have been reported in Europe.

It took around 75 days for the first 500,000 cases to be reported, and just six days for the most recent half million to be registered.

The first 41 cases were confirmed on Jan. 10, just over three months ago, and new cases have accelerated to over 70,000 a day in April.

It compares to 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness caused annually by seasonal influenza, according to World Health Organisation estimates.

While experts say actual cases of the new coronavirus are likely higher than current reports, the number still falls far short of the Spanish flu, which began in 1918 and infected an estimated 500 million people.

Despite the growing number of cases in the current pandemic, there are signs that the spread of the coronavirus is slowing with many countries exercising lockdown measures.

At the beginning of April, the total case figure grew at a rate of 8%-9% per day and this has since slowed to between 3%-4% per day in the past week.

More than 1.1 million cases have been reported in Europe, including almost 400,000 cases in Italy and Spain, where over 10% of reported cases have been fatal.

North America accounts for a third of all cases, though so far the region has reported lower death rates. In both the United States and Canada, 5% of reported cases have been fatal.

Cases in Latin America continue to grow faster than other regions, and topped 100,000 in the past 24 hours.

In China, where the virus is thought to have originated, daily new cases have dwindled to less than 20 a day over the past three days and no new deaths have been reported this week.

However, last week China raised its official death toll by 40%, adding another 1,290 fatalities which health authorities said were not reported earlier.

Currently, many countries continue to experience a shortage of testing resources, artificially lowering case numbers and excluding infections in nursing homes.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Alistair Bell)

U.S. coronavirus death toll passes 35,000, cases top 700,000: Reuters tally

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 35,400 on Friday, rising by more than 2,000 for the fourth day in a row, according to a Reuters tally, as some states announced timetables for lifting restrictions aimed at blunting the pandemic.

Total deaths in California topped 1,000 on Friday, the eighth state to reach that milestone and the first on the West Coast, according to a Reuters tally.

U.S. coronavirus confirmed cases were over 700,000, up 30,884 with a few states yet to report.

The number of new cases reported has accelerated in the past three days, with 31,425 cases reported on Thursday. A record increase of 35,715 new cases was reported on April 10.

The infections and fatalities are spread unevenly across the country, with more densely populated places such as New York accounting for nearly half the total U.S. deaths.

Sweeping stay-at-home orders in 42 states to combat the new coronavirus have shuttered businesses, disrupted lives and decimated the economy, and some protesters have begun taking to the streets to urge governors to rethink the restrictions.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Daniel Wallis and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. coronavirus deaths march higher to over 31,000: Reuters tally

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – U.S. coronavirus deaths rose above 31,000 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, as President Donald Trump prepares to announce guidelines for reopening the economy.

The United States is the world’s worst-affected country with fatalities doubling in just a week and setting a record single-day increase for two days in a row.

The governors of Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania began cautiously preparing Americans for a post-virus life where residents wear face masks as they emerge from isolation in the coming weeks.

The U.S. shutdown has crushed the nation’s economy to levels not seen since the Great Depression nearly a century ago as more than 20 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits amid shuttered stores and restaurants.

U.S. cases totaled over 635,000 and rose by 30,000 on Wednesday, the biggest increase in five days, according to the Reuters tally.

GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. may need to extend social distancing for virus until 2022, study says

(Reuters) – The United States may need to endure social distancing measures adopted during the coronavirus outbreak until 2022, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study comes as more than 2,200 people died in the United States from the outbreak on Tuesday, a record, according to a Reuters tally, even as the country debated how to reopen its economy. The overall death toll in the U.S. from the virus stands at more than 28,300 as of Tuesday.

“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available”, the Harvard researchers said in findings published Tuesday in the journal Science.

Giving examples of South Korea and Singapore, the researchers wrote that effective distancing could reduce the strain on healthcare systems and enable contact tracing and quarantine to be feasible.

The study acknowledged that prolonged distancing would most likely have profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences.

The study added that even in the case of “apparent elimination”, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should still be maintained, as a resurgence in contagion may be possible as late as 2024.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that infections had “certainly” not yet peaked. Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 124,000 have died in the most serious pandemic in a century.

The epicenter has shifted from China, where the virus emerged in December, to the United States, which has now recorded the most deaths.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

U.S. coronavirus death toll tops 24,000: Reuters tally

(Reuters) – U.S. deaths from the novel coronavirus topped 24,000 on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, as officials debated how to reopen the economy without reigniting the outbreak.

The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country. There were a total of nearly 583,000 U.S. cases with nearly 2 million reported cases globally.

On Monday, the United States reported about 1,500 new fatalities, far below last week’s running tally of roughly 2,000 deaths every 24 hours, according to a Reuters tally. U.S. deaths exceeded 24,400 on Tuesday with many states yet to report.

Sweeping stay-at-home restrictions to curb the spread of the illness, in place for weeks in many areas of the United States, have taken a painful toll on the economy. With businesses closed and curbs on travel, officials and lawmakers are debating when it might be safe to begin reopening some sectors.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. coronavirus outbreak could peak this week, CDC director says

By Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The coronavirus outbreak could reach its peak in the United States this week, a top U.S. health official said on Monday, pointing to signs of stabilization across the country.

The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country, more than 22,000 as of Monday morning according to a Reuters tally.

About 2,000 deaths were reported for each of the last four days in a row, the largest number of them in and around New York City. Experts say official statistics have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to the respiratory disease, having excluded coronavirus-related deaths at home.

“We are nearing the peak right now,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told NBC’s “Today” show. “You’ll know when you’re at the peak when the next day is actually less than the day before.”

Sweeping stay-at-home restrictions to curb the spread of the disease, in place for weeks in many areas of the country, have taken a painful toll on the economy, raising questions over how the country can sustain business closures and travel curbs.

On Sunday, a Trump administration official indicated May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions while cautioning that it was still too early to say whether that goal would be met.

Redfield refused to give a time frame for the re-opening of the U.S. economy and praised social-distancing measures that he said helped curb the mortality rate.

“There’s no doubt we have to reopen correctly,” Redfield said. “It’s going to be a step-by-step gradual process. It’s got to be data-driven.”

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, cautioned that the country was not prepared to end the shutdown.

“We all desire an end to the shutdown orders so we can get Americans back to work and back to normal,” Pelosi said in a statement. “However, there is still not enough testing available to realistically allow that to happen.”

This week Congress will work on further measures to soften the blow of the pandemic. Democrats want to add money for other anti-coronavirus efforts to a measure targeted at small businesses, including funding for rapid national testing and personal protective equipment.

“It cannot wait,” Pelosi said.

President Donald Trump retweeted a call to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci after the country’s top expert on infectious diseases said lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The retweet fueled speculation Trump was running out of patience with the popular scientist and could fire him. The White House on Monday did not comment on Trump’s retweet.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by)