Global COVID-19 death toll tops 2 million

By Shaina Ahluwalia and Kavya B

(Reuters) – The worldwide coronavirus death toll surpassed 2 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, as nations around the world are trying to procure multiple vaccines and detect new COVID-19 variants.

It took nine months for the world to record the first 1 million deaths from the novel coronavirus but only three months to go from 1 million to 2 million deaths, illustrating an accelerating rate of fatalities.

So far in 2021, deaths have averaged over 11,900 per day or one life lost every eight seconds, according to a Reuters tally.

“Our world has reached a heart-wrenching milestone ,” United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said in a video statement.

“Behind this staggering number are names and faces: the smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” he said, calling for more global coordination and funding for the vaccination effort.

By April 1, the global death toll could approach 2.9 million, according to a forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Given how fast the virus is spreading due to more infectious variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the worst could be ahead.

“We are going into a second year of this. It could even be tougher given the transmission dynamics and some of the issues that we are seeing,” Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies official, said during a Wednesday event.

The United States has the highest total number of deaths at over 386,000 and accounts for one in every four deaths reported worldwide each day. The next worst-affected countries are Brazil, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Combined, the five countries contribute to almost 50% of all COVID-19 deaths in the world but represent only 27% of the global population.

Europe, the worst-affected region in the world, has reported over 615,000 deaths so far and accounts for nearly 31% of all COVID-related deaths globally.

In India, which recently surpassed 151,000 deaths, vaccinations are set to begin on Saturday in an effort that authorities hope will see 300 million high-risk people inoculated over the next six to eight months.

(Reportintg by Shaina Ahluwalia and Kavya B in Bengalaru; Additional reporting by Chaithra J in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

Five killed, including baby, as car plows into pedestrian zone in Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) – Five people including a nine-month-old baby were killed and up to 15 injured on Tuesday when a speeding car ploughed into a pedestrian area in the western German city of Trier in what authorities said appeared to be a deliberate act.

Witnesses said people screamed in panic and some were thrown into the air by the car as it crashed through the shopping zone.

“We have arrested one person, one vehicle has been secured,” police said, adding that a 51-year-old German suspect from the Trier area had been overpowered within minutes of the incident and was now being questioned.

Prosecutor Peter Fritzen later told a news conference the suspect had drunk a significant amount of alcohol, and authorities were not working on the assumption that there was any Islamist militant motive to the incident.

Trier Mayor Wolfram Leibe said: “It looks as if we are talking about a suspect with mental issues, but we should not pass premature judgement.”

Authorities said a more thorough assessment of the suspect’s mental health would be necessary to determine whether he could be held criminally liable.

The suspect had spent the last few nights in the vehicle and did not seem to have a fixed address, Trier deputy police chief Franz-Dieter Ankner said. He had borrowed the vehicle, which was registered in someone else’s name, and did not appear to have a police record.

Mayor Leibe said a nine-month-old baby was among the dead.

The interior minister of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Roger Lewentz, said two women aged 25 and 73 and a man, 45, all from Trier, were also killed. Later, police said a fifth person had also died, with German media reporting that the latest victim was a 52-year old woman. Several of the injured were in critical condition.

TRUCK ATTACK

The incident shocked residents of Germany’s oldest town, founded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago.

“We have a driver who ran amok in the city,” Leibe told public broadcaster SWR.

“I just walked through the city center and it was just horrible. There is a gym shoe lying on the ground, and the girl it belongs to is dead,” he said. He told broadcaster N-TV that people who saw the incident were “totally traumatized”.

The Trierischer Volksfreund quoted a witness as saying a Range Rover was driving at high speed and people had been thrown through the air. It said the car had Trier plates.

Officers scoured the area in search of evidence, backed by police carrying automatic weapons. In the streets, Christmas lights twinkled incongruously.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement: “The news from Trier makes me very sad. My sympathy goes to the families of those whose lives were so suddenly and violently torn away from them. I am also thinking of the people who suffered injuries, in some cases very serious ones, and I wish them strength.”

Germany has tightened security on pedestrian zones across the country since a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in 2016 that killed 12 people and injured dozens.

In October 2019, a man opened fire on a synagogue in the city of Halle. After failing to get into the building he went on a rampage outside, killing two people.

In February this year a racist gunman killed nine migrants in Hanau near Frankfurt before killing his mother and himself.

Germany has closed bars and restaurants as part of steps to fight the coronavirus, but shops and schools are still open.

(Reporting by Thomas Seythal, Sabine Siebold, Riham Alkoussa and Madeline Chambers; Writing by Maria Sheahan and Giles Elgood; Editing Angus MacSwan and Rosalba O’Brien)

Death toll from Iota slowly rises in Central America amid ongoing rescue efforts

By Gustavo Palencia and Ismael Lopez

TEGUCIGALPA/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The death toll from storm Iota is slowly rising in Central America as authorities on Thursday said they’d recovered more bodies buried in landslides triggered by catastrophic flooding that swept through the already waterlogged region earlier this week.

Nearly 40 people were killed across Central America and Colombia, and the toll is expected to rise as rescue workers reach isolated communities. Most of the deaths have occurred in Nicaragua and Honduras.

The strongest storm on record to hit Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday as a Category 4 hurricane. It inundated low-lying areas still reeling from the impact two weeks ago of Eta, another major hurricane that killed dozens of people in the region.

On Thursday morning, Honduran authorities raised the death toll to 14 after confirming that eight members of two families, including four children, were killed when a landslide buried their homes in a village in a mountainous region populated by indigenous Lencas near the border with El Salvador.

In Nicaragua, where a total of 18 people have been confirmed dead, rescue efforts continue after a landslide in the north of the country killed eight people, with more missing.

While Iota largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, authorities struggled to cope with the fallout from days of heavy rain.

Numerous villages from northern Colombia to southern Mexico saw record rainfall swell rivers and trigger mudslides. Cities like the Honduran industrial hub of San Pedro Sula were also hit hard, with the city’s airport completely flooded and jetways looking more like docks, video posted on social media showed.

Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans have been forced to flee to shelters.

Experts say the destruction caused by the unprecedented 2020 hurricane season in Central America could spur more migration out of the region, which is coping with insecurity and an economic crisis triggered by coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns imposed earlier this year.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Ismael Lopez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Wilmer Lopez in Puerto Cabezas, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. death toll from COVID-19 nears quarter million as infection rates soar

By Gabriella Borter and Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – The death toll from COVID-19 in the United States approached 250,000 on Wednesday, the day after the country recorded the highest number of victims in nearly four months, a chilling sign for a healthcare system already struggling to cope.

On Tuesday, the pandemic claimed 1,596 lives in the United States, more than on any single day since July 27, contributing to a total of 248,898 confirmed deaths since the pandemic began, according to a Reuters tally.

For weeks, health officials and healthcare workers have warned that hospitals in all regions could soon become overwhelmed, with widespread community transmission of the virus evident in many places.

“I’m the most concerned I’ve been since this pandemic started,” Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN on Wednesday.

Nationwide, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 topped 75,000 on Tuesday, setting a new record. The Midwest has become the epicenter, reporting almost a half-million cases in the week ending on Monday. In Wisconsin, 90.6% of Intensive Care Unit beds were occupied as of Wednesday, state data showed.

Forty-one U.S. states have reported daily record increases in COVID-19 cases in November, 20 have registered new all-time highs in coronavirus-related deaths from day to day, and 26 have reported new peaks in hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.

Government officials in at least 18 states, representing both sides of the U.S. political divide, have issued sweeping new public health mandates this month. These range from stricter limits on social gatherings and non-essential businesses to new requirements for wearing masks in public places.

Even officials who initially bristled at the idea of the government imposing social restrictions have changed tune as the virus has spread.

In South Dakota, about 2% of residents currently have COVID-19, according to state data. The city of Sioux Falls voted to institute a mask mandate on Tuesday night, a week after Mayor Paul TenHaken voted the mandate down. TenHaken shifted to supporting the ordinance after the South Dakota State Medical Association urged the city council to mandate masks. State Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, has continued to oppose government restrictions to curb COVID-19.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday called the wave of new restrictions an overreach by state and local officials.

“The American people know how to protect their health,” she told Fox News in an interview. “We don’t lose our freedom in this country. We make responsible health decisions as individuals.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire hopes sink as death toll rises

By Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan

BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Hopes of a humanitarian ceasefire ending fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh sank further on Thursday as the death toll mounted and Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of launching new attacks.

Armenia accused Turkey of blocking flights carrying emergency aid from using its airspace, and Azerbaijan’s president warned of “new victims and new bloodshed” from fighting over the mountain enclave that broke out on Sept. 27.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev demanded that Armenia “halt attempts to capture liberated territories back” and said his country would take all regions of Nagorno-Karabakh if Armenia “acts negatively.”

Last Saturday’s ceasefire, aimed at letting the sides swap detainees and bodies of those killed in the clashes, has had little impact on the fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

In the deadliest flare-up since a 1990s war killed about 30,000 people, 604 Nagorno-Karabakh defense personnel have been killed, ethnic Armenian authorities say.

On Thursday, three Azeri civilians were killed and three were wounded during a funeral in Azerbaijan’s Terter region when an artillery shell fell on a cemetery, presidential aid Hikmet Hajiyev said on Twitter.

That would add to Azeri estimates provided on Wednesday that 43 civilians had so far been killed. Baku does not disclose military casualties. The prosecutor’s office said earlier on Thursday that two civilians had been wounded in shelling of the Aghdam area.

The Armenian prosecutor-general’s office said Azeri drones had killed two soldiers in the Vardenis region of Armenia on Wednesday, raising the Armenian military death toll to five. The servicemen were not involved in military action, it said.

A tweet from Nagorno-Karabakh’s ombudsman accused Azerbaijan of using heavy rockets to target civilian infrastructure in the town of Stepanakert.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

HUMANITARIAN CONCERNS

International organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have warned that the conflict, coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, could leave tens of thousands of people in need of aid over coming months.

Zareh Sinanyan, Armenian High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, said the delivery of 100 tonnes of aid from the United States was being delayed as Turkey had prohibited Armenia-bound humanitarian aid flights over its airspace.

Armenia’s civil aviation committee was told on Wednesday the Qatar Airways flight from Los Angeles was cancelled but gave no reasons, said the committee’s head, Tatevik Revazyan.

“We have grounds to claim that Turkey closed the air route deliberately,” Revazyan told Reuters, adding alternative routes over Russia or Georgia were being sought.

Turkey’s foreign ministry, which handles airspace issues, was not immediately available to comment.

Aside from humanitarian concerns, fears are growing of Russia and Turkey being sucked in. Turkey’s military exports to its ally Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, data shows, and Armenia has a defense pact with Russia.

In a phone call on Wednesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Russian leader Vladimir Putin expressed concerns about the participation of Middle East fighters in the conflict, though Turkey and Azerbaijan deny the presence of such fighters.

The fighting is also close to Azeri pipelines which carry natural gas and oil to international markets. Aliyev accused Armenia on Wednesday of trying to attack the pipelines, a charge that Armenia denied.

(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and Jonathan Spicer in Ankara; Writing by Sujata Rao; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

U.S. labor market slowing as fiscal stimulus fades

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly increased last week, supporting views the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was running out of steam amid diminishing government funding.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, the most timely data on the economy’s health, also showed 26 million people were on unemployment benefits in early September. The faltering labor market recovery and a recent rise in new coronavirus infections has piled pressure on Congress and the White House to come up with another rescue package.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers on Wednesday that Congress and the U.S. central bank needed to “stay with it” in working to support the economy’s recovery. More fiscal stimulus is looking increasingly unlikely before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“The high level of joblessness shows that the country isn’t out of the woods yet and it won’t be if the pleading of Fed officials for more stimulus isn’t heard by government officials down in Washington,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “The economy is running on empty.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 870,000 for the week ended Sept. 19. Data for the prior week was revised to show 6,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 840,000 applications in the latest week.

Unadjusted claims increased 28,527 to 824,542 last week. Economists prefer the unadjusted claims number given earlier difficulties adjusting the claims data for seasonal fluctuations because of the economic shock caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Six months after the pandemic started in the United States, jobless claims remain above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession, though applications have dropped from a record 6.867 million at the end of March.

While the reopening of businesses in May boosted activity, demand in the vast services industries has remained lackluster, keeping layoffs elevated. Job cuts have also spread to industries such as financial services and technology that were not initially impacted by the mandated business closures in mid-March because of insufficient demand.

A total 630,080 applications were received for the government-funded pandemic unemployment assistance last week. The PUA is for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs. Altogether, 1.5 million people filed claims last week.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower. The dollar gained versus a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

STALLED PROGRESS

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 167,000 to 12.58 million in the week ending Sept. 12.

Economists believed the so-called continuing claims are declining as people exhaust their eligibility for benefits, which are limited to 26 weeks in most states.

Indeed, just under one million workers exhausted their first six months of state unemployment benefits in August. At least 1.6 million workers filed for extended unemployment benefits in the week ending Sept. 5, up 104,479 from the prior week.

The continuing claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed households for September’s unemployment rate. The decline in mid-September implied a further decrease in the unemployment rate from 8.4% in August.

“Only faster progress against the virus itself will assuage the unemployment struggles of so many workers in fields like entertainment who can’t return to their jobs until social distancing restrictions are relaxed ,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation in New York.

The Fed has cut interest rates to near zero and vowed to keep borrowing costs low for a while, and has also been pumping money into the economy. Government money to help businesses has virtually dried up. Tens of thousands of airline workers are facing layoffs or furloughs next month.

A $600 weekly unemployment benefits supplement ended in July and was replaced with a $300 weekly subsidy, whose funding is already running out. The death toll from COVID-19 in the country topped 200,000 on Tuesday, the highest number of any nation.

The ebbing fiscal stimulus is already restraining the economy after activity rebounded sharply over the summer. Gross domestic product is expected to rebound at as much as a record 32% annualized rate in the third quarter after tumbling at a 31.7% rate in the April-June period, the worst performance since the government started keeping records in 1947.

But retail sales and production at factories moderated in August. Business activity cooled in September, reports have shown. Goldman Sachs on Wednesday cut its fourth-quarter GDP growth estimate to a 3% rate from a 6% pace, citing “lack of further fiscal support.”

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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)