Employees of the Federal State Center for Special Risk Rescue Operations of Russia Emergency Situations disinfect a platform of Leningradsky railway station in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Russia has continued to see a steady rise of new infections, and new hot spots have emerged across the vast country of 147-million people that ranks the second in the world behind the United States in the number of coronavirus cases. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Global worries as infections spike in Russia, Brazil, India

May 19, 2020 - 7:04 am

MOSCOW (AP) — 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 as much of Asia, Europe and scores of U.S. states have been easing lockdowns to restart their economies as new infections wane. U.S. autoworkers, French teachers and Thai mall workers are among hundreds of thousands of employees back at work with new safety precautions.

Russia reported a steady rise in new infections Tuesday and new hot spots have emerged across the 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 some have questioned.

Some experts argue Russian authorities have been under-reporting coronavirus deaths by listing chronic illnesses as the cause of death for many who tested positive. Authorities angrily deny suggestions they have been manipulating statistics, saying Russia’s low death toll reflects early preventative measures and broad screening that helped stem contagion. Nearly 7.4 million tests have been conducted.

In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, a virus hot spot, 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. The country's prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, resumed work Tuesday after a bout of coronavirus.

Cases are still rising across Africa, where all 54 nations have seen confirmed infections for a total of 88,172 cases and 2,834 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa has the highest number of cases at 16,433 and 286 deaths. Infections have increased dramatically in Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, which now accounts for 61% of South Africa’s total.

Latin America has seen more than 483,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 30,900 dead. The largest number of infections are in Brazil, which became the world's third worst-hit county Monday 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 a surprise announcement, President Donald Trump said he’s been taking a malaria drug to protect against the virus even though his own administration has warned it should only be administered in a hospital or research setting because of potentially fatal side effects. Several medical experts questioned the confusing signals Trump was giving to the American public.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has declared that a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March helped slow the outbreak and prevented the nation’s health care system from being overwhelmed. A week ago, he ended the nationwide lockdown. He has given Russia's 85 regions a free hand to determine how they will ease their own lockdowns, but some have been struggling. The mostly Muslim southern province of Dagestan has reported a spike in infections that left its hospitals overflowing.

In India, coronavirus cases 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. Authorities have relaxed some rules and allowed shops to open ahead of the important Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. T

Across the globe in Latin America, intensive care units in the Chilean capital of Santiago have been beyond 90% capacity for days and officials warned that intensive care medical staff were “reaching their limits.”

“They can’t keep going forever, no matter how many beds or ventilators there are,’’ said Claudio Castillo, a professor of public policy and health at the University of Santiago.

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 commandeered hotels. Colombia has 16,295 confirmed cases and 592 dead.

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

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

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 or near the first stages of testing.

Trump said he’s been taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine daily “for about a week and a half now” even though it has not been shown to combat the coronavirus. Health experts questioned the move.

“There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective for the treatment or the prevention of COVID-19,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association.

In a sign of what the fall may have in store, the University of Notre Dame announced that its campus will reopen to students on Aug. 10 with social distancing, a mask requirement, testing and contact tracing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The fall semester will end before Thanksgiving.

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.

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Becatoros reported from Athens, Greece and Perry from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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