Global Worries as Infections Spike in Russia, Brazil, India

MOSCOW (AP) -
A migrant worker walks along a railway track to return to his home state of central Madhya Pradesh, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, Tuesday. (Reuters/Amit Dave)

New coronavirus cases have been spiking from India to South Africa to Mexico in a clear indication that the pandemic is far from over, while Russia and Brazil now sit behind only the United States in the number of reported infections.

The surges come even as much of Asia, Europe and scores of U.S. states have seen enough progress in their fight against the virus to focus on how best to reopen their economies. U.S. autoworkers, French teachers and Thai mall workers are among the hundreds of thousands of employees back on the job with new safety precautions.

Russia reported a steady rise in new infections Tuesday and new hot spots have emerged across the vast nation of about 147 million. Russia registered 9,263 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to nearly 300,000 infections — about half of them in Moscow. Authorities say 2,837 people with COVID-19 have died in Russia, a figure that international health experts have questioned.

In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, one of the main hot spots, all burials now must be with closed coffins irrespective of the cause of death, as an extra precaution. Previously the measure only applied to COVID-19 deaths.

Russia’s case load is second only to the U.S., which has seen 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths.

Latin America has seen more than 483,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 30,900 dead to date. The largest number of infections are in Brazil, which became the world’s third-worst-hit country Monday evening with more than 250,000 infections, despite limited testing. Hospital officials report more than 85% occupancy for intensive care beds in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Alarmingly, some countries have seen encouraging signs reverse: Iran reported a steady drop in new virus infections through April, only to see them rise again in May.

But there is new hope after an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus yielded encouraging results, albeit in a small and extremely early test. Stocks rallied Monday on the news.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has declared that a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March helped slow the outbreak and prevent the nation’s health-care system from being overwhelmed. A week ago, he ended the nationwide lockdown and encouraged provincial governors to consider reopening industries and construction sites.

Russian authorities have been listing chronic illnesses as the cause of death for many of those who tested positive but angrily deny suggestions they have been manipulating statistics. They insist that Russia’s low number of deaths reflects early preventative measures and broad screening that helped stem contagion. Nearly 7.4 million tests have been conducted.

Putin has given the regions a free hand to determine how they will ease their lockdowns, noting that the situation differs widely in Russia’s 85 provinces. Some have been struggling, such as the mostly Muslim southern province of Dagestan, which reported a spike in infections that left its hospitals overflowing.

In India, coronavirus cases have surged past 100,000, and infections are rising in the home states of migrant workers who fled cities and towns during a nationwide lockdown when they lost their jobs.

India is now seeing more than 4,000 new cases daily. States including West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Gujarat, the major contributors of India’s migrant labor, are showing major spikes in infections as the country’s lockdown rules have eased. More than 3,100 with COVID-19 have died, according to India’s Health Ministry.

And in densely populated Bangladesh, where authorities reported a record 1,602 positive tests, thousands of cars were on the streets of the capital, Dhaka, despite a lockdown that extends through May 30.

Infections were also increasing in poor areas of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, where authorities relaxed strict lockdown measures last week, allowing some businesses to open and children to walk outside on weekends.

Colombia was struggling with an outbreak in Leticia, a city on the border with Brazil, where hospitals were overwhelmed and patients were being sent to hotels commandeered to be emergency medical centers. Colombia has reported 16,295 confirmed cases and 592 dead.

In Europe and the United States, which has seen 36 million Americans file for unemployment, economic concerns were dominating the political landscape.

Unemployment claims in Britain jumped 69% in April as the pandemic took hold, U.K. authorities said Tuesday. European car sales collapsed by an unprecedented 76% in April as the automotive industry faces its worst crisis in decades.

In the U.S., more than 130,000 autoworkers returned to factories for the first time in nearly two months in one of the biggest steps yet to restart American industry.

An experimental vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. triggered hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers. They were found to have antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19. Further studies on the vaccine’s safety, effectiveness and optimal dosage are needed.

Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in the first stages of testing or nearing it. More than 4.8 million people worldwide have been infected and over 318,000 deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is too low for several reasons.