Coronavirus: Global cases pass 14m as US cases soar amid debate over face masks.

More than 14.1 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 602,650 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

The following is a summary of the latest developments on the virus around the world:

US

Americans debated mask mandates and the reopening of schools during the coronavirus pandemic on Friday as state and local officials imposed conflicting orders and cases rose by more than 70,000 across the nation for the second day in a row.The United States recorded a total of at least 70,674 new Covid-19 infections on Friday after climbing by a record 77,499 a day earlier, the largest increase posted by any country since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally. US deaths on Friday rose by at least 912, the fourth day in a row that fatalities have exceeded 900 a day.

In the state of Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta’s mayor to prevent her from mandating masks.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a plan to offer both in-person and remote instruction at the nation’s third-largest school district, over the objection of the teachers’ union, which wants remote learning only.

Americans have become divided along political lines over mask orders, with conservatives more likely than liberals to call the rules a violation of their Constitutional rights.

“Everybody saying that (wearing a mask) is a violation of their freedom - no, it’s not. Because a seatbelt is mandated and that’s to save your life,” said Sharon Taylor (48) a cardiothoracic nurse in Atlanta.

President Donald Trump said that while he supports the use of masks as protection against the coronavirus he does not believe that wearing a face covering should be mandatory for the nation. “I want people to have a certain freedom,” Mr Trump said in an interview with Fox News, an excerpt of which was broadcast by the network ahead of its full airing on Sunday. Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, urged political leaders to “be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks.”

With school set to resume in a few weeks, local officials across the country have announced a variety of plans to resume teaching.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who until now has allowed school districts in the nation’s most populous state to set their own policies, said on Friday schools could reopen only in counties that for 14 days have stayed off a worsening trends watch list.

As of Friday, 30 of the state’s 58 counties were on the list and schools there must remain closed. Among them are Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego counties, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the state’s population.

The United States has been averaging about 60,000 cases a day in July with cases rising in 41 states on Friday, based on a Reuters analysis. Texas and Arkansas reported a record number of deaths on Friday, while Kansas, Ohio, North Dakota and Puerto Rico reported record numbers of infections.

Mr Trump has urged a return to normal, stressing the importance of reigniting the economy. The Trump administration and some health experts argue children are better off in classrooms for their development, and also to allow parents to return to work.

Australia

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on Saturday delayed the opening of parliament for several weeks as the new coronavirus continued spreading through the country’s two most populous states.

Mr Morrison asked the speaker of the parliament to cancel a two-week session due to start on August 4th, out of concern about the Covid-19 pandemic. The request was seen as a formality as the speaker is a member of Morrison’s Liberal Party and the opposition Labor Party accepted the call.

Lawmakers are to meet at the next planned session on August 24th. “The government cannot ignore the risk to parliamentarians, their staff, the staff within the parliament and the broader community,” Mr Morrison said in a written statement, adding he acted based on the advice of medical authorities.

Victoria state reported 217 new infections after a record 428 cases on Friday. Neighbouring New South Wales, the most populous state, which has also been struggling to contain a new wave of infections, saw 15 new cases.Victoria forced nearly five million people into a partial lockdown for six weeks on July 9th, as expectations of harsher social-distancing restrictions were growing with the virus continuing to spread.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews left open the possibility of further curbs, urging people not to leave their houses except for work, exercise or essential shopping.

India

India became the third country in the world to record more than one million coronavirus cases on Friday. It has been grappling with an average of almost 30,000 new infections each day for the last week.

Brazil

One day after Brazil surpassed 2 million coronavirus cases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the outbreak has reached a plateau in the country. “The rise in Brazil is no longer exponential,” WHO executive director Michael Ryan said in a press conference Friday. “There is a plateau, there is an opportunity here now for Brazil to push the disease down, to suppress the transmission of the virus, to take control,” he said, adding that it will take “sustained, concerted action.” The Latin American nation trails only the US in coronavirus infections and deaths globally, with almost 78,000 fatalities. The country’s response – no national guidelines, two health ministers who departed and a leader that has often belittled the disease – has been criticised by health experts and by the WHO itself. President Jair Bolsonaro said last month the government was considering withdrawing from the international health agency, following the move of Mr Trump. The spread of the virus has shifted in location across Brazil in recent weeks. While in the original urban epicenters like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro the numbers have stabilised, the disease is nevertheless spreading fast in Brazil’s poorer, more remote areas. On Friday, Brazil reported 34,177 new cases and 1,163 deaths from the disease. The country, home to 210 million people, has registered over 260,000 infections in each of the past two weeks, the highest tallies since the virus was first reported locally in late February. Deaths have hovered above 7,000 a week for about a month. “The numbers have stabilised, but what they haven’t done is start to fall in a systematic, day-by-day way,” Mr Ryan said. “ Brazil is still very much in the middle of this fight.”

UK

British prime minister Boris Johnson has held out the prospect of a “significant return to normality” by Christmas as he announced a fresh easing of lockdown restrictions in England on Friday - but his roadmap was met with a backlash from business leaders and claims he is making policy “on a wing and prayer”. After four months of encouraging the public to work from home to help contain the spread of coronavirus, the prime minister said from August 1st the onus would be on employers to decide whether staff could safely come back to the office. His blueprint could lead to a return for gigs, theatre performances and business conferences in the coming months. A lifting of restrictions on attendance at football matches could happen in October, Mr Johnson said, and it “may conceivably be possible to move away from the social distancing measures” by November. Mr Johnson said local lockdowns would be implemented quickly where needed, and he unveiled plans to hand local authorities greater powers. He was careful not to claim that his proposals had been endorsed by the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. Giving testimony to the House of Lords on Friday, both men struck a sombre tone, with Prof Whitty reiterating in the strongest terms the need to maintain social distancing “for a long period of time”. “There is a very significant chance that it [coronavirus] comes back in force,” added Sir Vallance. Mr Johnson said his framework for a return to normality depended on staff talking to their employers “in a serious and grown-up way” and offices being made Covid-19-secure. But this drew criticism for being overly vague. Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of making policy “on a wing and a prayer”.

China

Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, said it has launched emergency response plan after the city reported 16 new coronavirus cases on Friday. The regional government said all recent new infections and asymptomatic cases reported in the autonomous region were in Urumqi, it said on its official Weibo account on Saturday.

Xinjiang, home to most of China’s Uighur ethnic minority, has so far mostly avoided the worst of the coronavirus pandemic which erupted in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. As of July 17th, the region reported a total of 17 coronavirus cases, plus 11 asymptomatic cases. Another 269 people were under medical observation, according to the regional health commission. The city launched emergency response plan on Friday to analyse confirmed cases and asymptomatic infections, state broadcaster CCTV reported, adding the government would carry out epidemiological investigations to trace the source of the infection in order to make sure no one was missed. Including the 16 cases in Urumqi, China reported 22 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for July 17th, up from 10 cases a day earlier, the health authority said on Saturday. Six others were imported cases.

China reported 14 new asymptomatic patients, up from five a day earlier. As of Friday, mainland China had 83,644 confirmed coronavirus cases, the health authority said. The Covid-19 death toll remained at 4,634.

Japan

Tokyo saw a third straight day of more than 200 new cases. Infections totaled 290 on Saturday, public broadcaster NHK said, citing sources at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. That’s close to the record 293 cases reported a day earlier. Officials in Japan have so far resisted reimposing additional restrictions. There’s no need to declare a state of emergency right now and the Tokyo medical system isn’t under pressure, Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday.– Guardian, PA, Reuters, Bloomberg

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