by Chris Lefkow with AFP bureaus
Coronavirus deaths surged past 100,000 in hardest-hit Europe on Saturday as hundreds of Americans frustrated by lockdown orders and egged on by President Donald Trump staged protests in several US cities.
As the latest grim data emerged, performers from around the world kicked off an hours-long live-streamed concert aimed at supporting health care workers, and cultivating a sense of community in a time of crisis.
The six-hour event, which includes A-listers ranging from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to award-winning teen singer Billie Eilish to the Rolling Stones, was brought together by the advocacy group Global Citizen with the World Health Organization.
Worldwide, more than 2,289,500 people have tested positive for the highly contagious virus.
Europe accounts for a total of 100,510 deaths — nearly two-thirds of the 157,539 fatalities worldwide, according to an AFP tally, while nearly a quarter of deaths have come in the United States.
The United States has the highest caseload of any country, with more than 734,000 confirmed infections, and by Saturday had lost 38,664 people to the virus, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
Progress was marked in some places, with New York state reporting the lowest number of deaths in weeks, which Governor Andrew Cuomo attributed largely to social distancing.
But as Americans and others around the world chafe after weeks under shelter-at-home orders, rising resentment erupted this week.
Demonstrations Saturday at the capitols of states including Texas, Maryland, New Hampshire and Ohio drew hundreds of people, many waving American flags and some carrying arms, demanding a quick end to state-ordered confinement.
– ‘Carried away’ –
The spreading anti-lockdown movement drew encouragement Friday from Trump, who tweeted that three states should be “liberated” from the stay-home orders.
Trump has called for a rapid return to normality to limit the devastating damage to the US economy — while largely leaving the final decision on easing lockdowns to state officials.
The US leader told reporters on Saturday that some state governors had gotten “carried away” and imposed “unreasonable” restrictions.
But Americans, by two-to-one, disagree with the protesters. A new Pew survey found that most were more concerned about ending home confinement too soon rather than too late.
At a White House briefing, Trump also warned that China could face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the coronavirus outbreak which began in the city of Wuhan in December.
“It could have been stopped in China before it started and it wasn’t,” Trump said. “And now the whole world is suffering.”
“If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake,” he said. “But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences.”
Trump also cast doubt on official Chinese figures showing the country has suffered just 0.33 deaths per 100,000 people.
“The number’s impossible,” he said.
The United States, according to a chart displayed at the briefing, has had 11.24 deaths per 100,000 people while France has had 27.92 and Spain 42.81.
China’s death toll jumped to 4,632 on Friday after it raised by 50 percent the number of fatalities for Wuhan.
– ‘Under control’ –
Mounting evidence suggests that social distancing slowed the pandemic after more than half of humanity — 4.5 billion people — were confined to their homes.
Many countries are testing only the most serious cases and the number of confirmed infections is likely to be a fraction of the true total.
Stay-at-home orders have been enforced in Italy and Spain, still the hardest-hit countries in Europe, with 23,227 and 20,043 fatalities respectively, followed by France with 19,323 deaths. Britain’s overall death toll is officially 15,464.
As governments around the world grapple with when and how to ease lockdowns that have crippled the global economy, Spain on Saturday extended its nationwide lockdown to May 9.
Japan, Britain and Mexico have all expanded their movement restrictions.
Yet elsewhere, signs that the outbreak could be easing prompted Switzerland, Denmark and Finland to begin reopening shops and schools this week.
Germany has declared the virus “under control” after 3,400 deaths, and is beginning the delicate task of lifting some restrictions without triggering a secondary outbreak — with some shops allowed to reopen Monday, and some children returning to school within weeks.
Parts of Italy began emerging from lockdown too, with Venice residents strolling around quiet canals.
Iran also allowed some Tehran businesses to reopen Saturday despite the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak.
“How can I keep staying home? My family is hungry,” said Hamdollah Mahmoudi, 45, a shopworker in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.
– 1,000 deaths in Africa –
Virtually no corner of the world has been left untouched, with deaths in Africa passing 1,000.
Nigeria announced the death of a top aide to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Meanwhile, many of the world’s 260 million Orthodox Christians are preparing to mark Easter without attending church services.
In Zimbabwe, mass rallies and military parades to mark the country’s 40th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule were cancelled.
And Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II will not mark her birthday on Tuesday with a traditional gun salute.
Signs of the global economic carnage wrought by the pandemic are accumulating, with China reporting its first GDP contraction since at least the early 1990s.