Biden vows virus action on 'day one' as Europe reels from second wave

AFP bureaus
·3-min read

The United States reported record new coronavirus cases for the third day in a row, as Joe Biden vowed to act against the pandemic on "day one" if he wins the presidential election in the world's worst-hit nation.

Global infections have surged past 49 million and Europe has become the new pandemic epicenter in recent weeks, with more than 300,000 deaths -- nearly a quarter of the global total.

More than 127,000 new infections were reported in the US on Friday, the third straight day of record cases, as votes from the bitterly fought presidential election were still being counted.

No winner has been declared but Biden promised late Friday that he would not waste any time in addressing the pandemic if he is victorious.

"I want everyone, everyone to know on day one we're going to put our plan to control this virus into action," the Democrat said.

The infection figures came as President Donald Trump, who survived a bout of Covid-19 in October and has been widely criticized over his handling of the crisis, trailed his Democratic challenger in the ongoing vote count.

US cases are fast approaching 10 million, with more than 236,000 deaths, and the pandemic has hammered the world's biggest economy, leaving millions jobless.

Trump has been a vocal opponent of lockdown measures, citing their impact on the economy, and has repeatedly clashed with his own government's experts over coronavirus policy.

Unlike Biden, Trump held massive campaign rallies ahead of the November 3 vote, and had insisted that the US was "rounding the turn" on the virus despite the surges.

Several senior members of his administration have contracted the virus in recent weeks, with Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows the latest to test positive, US media said late Friday.

The pandemic has been cited as one of the factors for the delay in US election results, with state authorities deluged with millions of ballots mailed by citizens not willing to risk infection by voting in person.

- 'More distrust'

Across the Atlantic, Greece became the latest European nation to enter lockdown Saturday with the continent reeling from a second, relentless coronavirus wave.

Under the measures, which came into force at 6 am (0400 GMT), Greeks can only leave their homes if they make an official request via mobile phone and then receive authorization. Only "essential shops" including supermarkets and pharmacies can stay open.

The measures follow the imposition of restrictions in Italy, France, Ireland and Britain, while Switzerland is also being hit hard by the virus.

Poland will also impose fresh measures Saturday, closing most stores in shopping centers, with some exceptions such as grocery stores, pharmacies and hair salons. The government is also closing cinemas, theatres, galleries and other cultural institutions and making hotels available for business travelers only.

Governments are also exploring mass testing as a way to curb the pandemic.

In England, Liverpool on Friday began the country's first city-wide coronavirus testing program. All 500,000 residents will be offered repeat tests, even if asymptomatic, under a pilot scheme that could be rolled out nationwide if successful.

Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo -- the epicenter of Italy's coronavirus crisis earlier this year -- said "there is more tiredness and more distrust around" than during the first lockdown, after people protested outside his home.

Ahead of the Greece lockdown, people rushed to get a haircut even though hairdressers and salons are allowed to open for two more days.

Athens hairdresser Apostolos Gelbas said he was struggling to find the time to serve all his clients: "It seems that this was one of the main things that the people missed during the first lockdown."

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