US deaths top 250,000, Tokyo on high alert as Covid-19 cases soar

The metropolis of Tokyo is raising its coronavirus alert to its highest level, following reports of record high new daily cases, governor Yuriko Koike has said. She urged people to take measures to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, but didn’t yet ask businesses to curtail activities.

Across the Pacific, US deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 250,000, marking a grim milestone as the nation struggles to contain a new surge in cases. New York City said it will shut all schools after coronavirus infections crossed a critical threshold. New York state has the most US fatalities, at more than 34,000. Texas is second, followed by California and Florida.

There was alarm and caution in the southern hemisphere as well. South Australia began one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, with even outdoor exercise and dog-walking banned as the state tries to contain a cluster of Covid-19 infections.

In Tokyo, new coronavirus cases reached 534 on Thursday, taking the cumulative total to 36,256. Japan’s daily Covid-19 cases rose to a record of more than 2,000 on Wednesday. Japan’s capital raised its Covid-19 alert to the highest of four levels, as daily infections topped 500 for the first time.

New York’s recovery from the outbreak suffered twin blows with the announcement of citywide school closings and the warning of massive cuts to public-transit service. Parents of hundreds of thousands of kids must find alternative arrangements by Thursday, after mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had reached a 3% positivity rate that triggered a temporary halt to in-class instruction.

Russia has resumed the vaccination of new volunteers in its trial for its Sputnik V vaccine after a short pause as Moscow moves to accelerate plans to inoculate the population. It comes as Russia topped 2 million Covid-19 infections, pushing its hospital system to the brink.

As coronavirus cases surge across West Asia, the regional director for the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday the only way to avoid mass deaths is for countries to quickly tighten restrictions.

In a press briefing from Cairo, Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, which comprises most of West Asia, expressed concern that countries in the area were lowering their guard.

The fundamentals of pandemic response, from social distancing to mask wearing, “are still not being fully practised in our region”, he lamented.

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