Global report: fears of coronavirus surge from US protests as world cases hit 6m

Peter Beaumont, Sam Jones in Madrid and Kim Willsher in Paris

Global coronavirus infections have passed the 6 million mark as Latin America hit the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths with Brazil alone accounting for half of those fatalities.

With at least 369,000 deaths confirmed worldwide since the pandemic began in China in January – and that number believed to be an underestimate – Brazil’s virus death toll of 28,834 has now surpassed that of France with the country reporting 33,274 new infections reported in the past 24 hours.

The 6 million infections total was passed as Pope Francis pointedly insisted that people were more important than economies as countries decide how quickly to reopen from coronavirus lockdowns.

The pope made his unscripted comments, without naming any specific countries, in his noon address from his window overlooking St Peter’s Square, as Italy’s lockdown drew to an end.

Coronavirus figures for Brazil

“Healing people, not saving [money] to help the economy [is important], healing people, who are more important than the economy,” Francis said as he also appealed to people to reject pessimism.

In the middle of a fragmented global response, which has complicated the fight against the pandemic, the European Union urged the United States to reconsider its decision to cut ties with the World Health Organization over the Trump administration’s criticism of its handling of the outbreak.

“In the face of this global threat, now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions. Actions that weaken international results must be avoided,” the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said in a statement.

“In this context, we urge the US to reconsider its announced decision,” they said a day after President Donald Trump announced the move, accusing the WHO of becoming a puppet of China. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, also condemned the move and pledged intensive talks with Washington on the issue.

In the US, the country with the world’s highest coronavirus death toll, local state and city officials warned that the public gatherings in the countrywide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis risked triggering even more infections, with some testing centres being closed because of the protests.

A sparser than normal crowd for Pope Francis’s Sunday address. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Among them, the Minnesota governor, Tim Walz, warned that hospitals were “on the verge of being overrun”, adding that “demonstrators should wear masks and try to practice social distancing”, while the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, said all coronavirus testing centres across the city had closed on Saturday because of safety concerns.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, also suggested those attending demonstrations should seek a test for Covid-19.

The pandemic has provoked differing approaches from politicians and public health authorities around the world, not only over the response during the period of peak infections but also over how to ease their lockdowns.

Spain’s prime minister said on Sunday he would ask parliament to agree to a final two-week extension of the state-of-emergency lockdown until 21 June, after which the government will no longer restrict citizens’ movements.

Pedro Sánchez told regional government leaders during a video conference meeting that this would be the last lockdown as Spain’s infection rates have reduced dramatically.

The country’s death toll rose by four on Saturday to 27,125, the health ministry said, reflecting a dramatic decline in daily fatalities as Spain brings the outbreak under control. The number of Covid-19 infections increased by 271 overnight to 239,228 on Saturday.

In France, the country’s health agency, Santé Publique France, said there was no sign of a rise in Covid-19 cases in the country since the strict nationwide lockdown was lifted three weeks ago.

The authority reported that the circulation of Covid-19 had been dropping for more than seven weeks, meaning fewer emergency patients at hospitals and a decrease in the number of patients being admitted to intensive care.

The Middle East has also seen efforts to ease restrictions, with tens of thousands of mosques across Saudi Arabia reopening on Sunday for the first time in more than two months, although with worshippers ordered to follow strict guidelines.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s holiest site outside of Saudi Arabia, also reopened for prayers for the first time since it was closed in mid-March.

With little regard for physical distancing, throngs waited outside the holy site’s gates before it opened early on Sunday, with many wearing surgical masks. As they were allowed to enter, the faithful stopped to have their temperature measured.

Agencies contributed to this report