US hits 5 million virus cases as Trump criticized over relief package
WASHINGTON — The United States on Sunday reached the extraordinary milestone of five million coronavirus cases as President Donald Trump was accused of flouting the constitution by unilaterally extending a virus relief package.
The US has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, recording nearly 163,000 deaths — by far the highest of any country, ahead only of Brazil, which on Saturday became the second country to pass 100,000 deaths.
The global death toll is at least 727,288 since the novel coronavirus emerged in China last December, according to a running tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Nearly 20 million cases have been registered worldwide — probably reflecting only a fraction of the actual number of infections.
As around much of the globe, the small African country of Malawi on Sunday imposed tight social restrictions to try to contain the disease, shutting all bars and churches, while hot weekend weather drew crowds in Europe to the beach.
In Washington, the new virus relief package — announced by Trump on Saturday after talks between Republican and Democrat lawmakers hit a wall — was “absurdly unconstitutional,” senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told CNN.
Fellow Democrat and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, appearing on ABC, dismissed Trump’s unilateral measures as “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”
But with the nation’s economy still struggling to dig itself out of an enormous hole, Democrats appeared skittish about any legal challenge to a relief package they see as seriously inadequate.
The four executive orders Trump signed Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey will, among other things, defer payroll taxes and provide some temporary unemployment benefits.
The president was seen as keen to show himself taking decisive action ahead of a November 3 election that could see him ousted from office, with polls showing a large majority of voters unhappy with his handling of the crisis.
On Sunday night, Trump blamed what he called Democratic stubbornness for his being forced to take executive action.
“The Democrats were unwilling to do anything,” Trump told reporters as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington.
“It was time to act,” he said. “We have to get money out to the people.”
Democrats say the president’s orders infringe on Congress’s constitutional authority over the federal budget.
But Pelosi demurred when asked about possible legal action, saying, “Whether (it was) legal or not takes time to figure out.”
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow defended the new measures.
“Maybe we’re going to go to court on them. We’re going to go ahead with our actions anyway,” he said.
Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Joe Biden, tweeted that five million coronavirus cases was “a number that boggles the mind and breaks the heart.
“It shouldn’t have gotten this bad,” he said.
The US on Sunday had added 47,197 new cases in 24 hours, with 532 additional deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
US fatalities now total 162,913, and the number of infections is 5,041,473, the Baltimore-based university said.
Elsewhere, growing infections in and around Paris prompted French officials to make face masks compulsory outdoors in crowded areas and tourist hotspots in the city and surrounding areas from Monday.
The mask will be obligatory for all those aged 11 and over in “very crowded zones,” said a police statement, including the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.
As temperatures soared across western Europe, holidaymakers crowded beaches at the weekend despite warnings about the risk of infection.
Local authorities in Germany warned that some beaches and lakes would be closed if there were too many people.
Belgian police meanwhile arrested several people Saturday at the resort of Blankenberge after a brawl broke out on a beach between officers and youths they had told to leave for refusing to respect virus safety measures.
Around 5,000 people demonstrated in Vienna for increased financial support for nightlife and relaxing coronavirus regulations.
In Peru, indigenous people armed with spears and angry over what they consider government neglect of their communities in the pandemic assaulted a settlement for oil workers deep in the Amazon, triggering a clash with police that left three natives dead, the government said Sunday.
Back in the US, in another burst of defiance over health warnings, thousands of bikers converged on a town in South Dakota for what is billed as the largest cycle gathering in the world.
In past years, the 10-day rally in Sturgis has drawn hundreds of thousands of bikers to socialize, drink and party together — raising fears among some locals that this year’s version could be a superspreader event.
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