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US hits 5 million virus cases as Trump criticized over relief package

Confirmed cases worldwide near 20 million; Democrats bash US president’s measure as ‘absurdly unconstitutional’ and ‘unworkable’

Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of the emergency room at Coral Gables Hospital, where coronavirus patients are treated in Coral Gables, Florida, on July 30, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP)
Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of the emergency room at Coral Gables Hospital, where coronavirus patients are treated in Coral Gables, Florida, on July 30, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP)

WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — 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 over 162,000 deaths — by far the highest of any country, as Brazil on Saturday became the second country to pass 100,000 confirmed 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, 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 US 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.

US President Donald Trump speaks after touring the Whirlpool Corporation Manufacturing Plant in Clyde, Ohio, on August 6, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP)

Summer crowds

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 adviser 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.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a statement Sunday saying Trump “was fully committed to making sure that hardworking Americans and businesses continue to have the resources they need as our country safely reopens.”

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.

Former US vice president Joe Biden delivers a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on July 28, 2020. (Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP)

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.

And around 5,000 people demonstrated in Vienna for increased financial support for nightlife and relaxing coronavirus regulations.

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