Trump says US economy ‘largely’ over pandemic, as EU eyes border openings

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AFP / BERTRAND GUAY Countries like France are eager to salvage the summer tourism season

President Donald Trump said Friday the US economy had largely made it through the coronavirus pandemic, as a top expert in France said the worst was over there and the EU looked to open its borders again.

The United States is by far the worst hit by the deadly disease, which has killed over 390,000 people and infected some 6.6 million globally since it first erupted in China last year.

As the US leader trumpeted his country’s economic recovery, there was fresh news on the scientific front as a new trial out of the UK suggested that the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine — which Trump has taken — offered no benefit in treating COVID-19.

AFP / Simon MALFATTO Spread of coronavirus

Scientists are scrambling for an effective treatment and vaccine for the disease as countries ease out of lockdowns to revive their ravaged economies, while avoiding a second wave of contagion.

Trump, who is eyeing re-election in November, has repeatedly urged US states to ease shut-in measures — often against the counsel of medical experts — as he seeks to kickstart the economy, with tens of millions of jobs already wiped out.

On Friday he offered some optimism on the economic front after fresh employment data showed the country gained 2.5 million jobs in May as lockdowns eased.

AFP / Alex Edelman US President Donald Trump has urged states to ease lockdown to get the economy moving again

“We had the greatest economy in the history of the world. And that strength let us get through this horrible pandemic, largely through, I think we’re doing really well,” Trump told reporters, reiterating calls to further lift restrictions.

“We want the continued blanket lockdown to end for these states.”

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More than 108,000 people have died in the US, where infections are above 1.8 million, and there are fears ongoing protests in the country over racism and police brutality could fuel the spread of the virus.

– Drug controversy –

As leaders look allow people to return to public life again, debate swirled on the scientific front about whether the controversial hydroxychloroquine drug should be used to treat COVID-19.

AFP / Mandel NGAN President Donald Trump said the US economy was “largely through” the pandemic

The latest major study out of Britain’s Oxford University said the drug showed “no beneficial effect” in treating the illness, after much to and fro in the scientific community about its effectiveness.

The World Health Organization said this week it was restarting trials of the drug after they were temporarily halted because of a now-retracted study in The Lancet medical journal warning of harmful side effects.

Trump said he took a course of the drug last month as a preventative measure against coronavirus, while in Brazil — which now has the world’s third highest death toll — officials have also encouraged it as a treatment.

– EU to reopen –

In Europe, badly-hit countries slowly continued on a path toward a post-pandemic normal, many eager to revive key tourist sectors in time for the summer season.

The EU said it could reopen borders to travellers from outside the region in early July, after some countries within the bloc made the decision to open frontiers to European visitors.

“We should consider the gradual lifting restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU early July,” said Ylva Johansson, the EU’s home affairs commissioner.

AFP/File / GEORGE FREY A UK trial found that using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 was not beneficial

Switzerland said it would be open for travellers from the EU and Britain on June 15, after Italy opened its borders to European visitors this week and Austria scrapped entry checks at its borders — except for the one with hard-hit Italy.

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France also had positive news, with a top immunologist saying the outbreak had abated as daily deaths and new cases had fallen far below their March peaks.

“We can reasonably say the virus is currently under control,” said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the head of the government’s scientific advisory council.

– Rumors swirl in Haiti –

But as Europe eyed life after the pandemic, bleak numbers streamed in from Latin America, the new virus epicenter.

Brazil reported a new 24-hour record death toll bringing its total to more than 34,000, the third highest in the world after the United States and Britain, where more than 40,000 have died.

AFP / Tarso SARRAF Brazil now has the third highest death toll in the world after the US and Britain

Like Trump, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has fiercely criticized coronavirus stay-at-home measures, arguing that they are needlessly hurting the economy.

Brazil is the hardest-hit country in Latin America, though the tolls are also rising sharply in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.

Mexico reported a record number of new infections for the second straight day, with 4,442.

And in Peru, desperate residents lined up to buy oxygen tanks for their loved ones, as the government declared oxygen a “strategic health resource” amid an acute shortage.

Impoverished Haiti, with its fragile health system, is also seeing worrying trends as infections and deaths rise in the face of swirling rumors and disinformation about the severity of the disease.

When 25-year-old Jonel Cadet tested positive, he said: “I didn’t believe it, and I even said the president was talking nonsense.

“It was only by coming here that I really started to believe, because I saw people who were much worse off,” he told AFP from a hospital in Cite Soleil.

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