Virus sours July 4 celebrations in US as Mexico cases soar
A surge in coronavirus cases sapped the fun out of July 4 celebrations in the United States as the pandemic also accelerated through neighboring Mexico, the rest of Latin America and South Africa.
Even Europe, which has largely been celebrating reopening, saw some setbacks, with authorities placing 200,000 people back under lockdown in Spain after a spike in infections that underlined how easily hard-won progress can be reversed.
The United States remains by far the world's hardest-hit country, logging a further 43,000 cases Saturday that brought its total number of infections to more than 2.8 million, with nearly 130,000 deaths.
The spiraling caseload cast a pall over traditional Independence Day celebrations, with beaches closed and the National Mall in Washington, usually crowded with spectators ready for fireworks, near deserted.
Main Street parades were canceled, boisterous backyard barbecues scaled down and family reunions put off.
Despite the somber mood, President Donald Trump insisted the end was in sight in the fight against COVID-19.
Speaking from the White House lawn, Trump addressed a crowd that included frontline health workers battling the virus.
He accused China -- where the outbreak originated late last year -- of a cover-up that allowed the illness to race across the globe, but hailed American "scientific brilliance."
"We'll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year," he said.
If so, it will be in high demand. As the virus continues its relentless march around the world, Latin America is also grappling with rising cases.
Mexico's toll crossed 30,000 on Saturday, propelling it past France to become the fifth-hardest-hit country in the world.
And Brazil, which has defiantly opened bars and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, notched up nearly 40,000 new cases and more than a thousand deaths, keeping it in second place behind the US in the bleak global rankings.
Across the Atlantic, South Africa reported more than 10,000 new infections Saturday, its highest ever daily jump. Africa's most economically developed country now has the greatest number of cases on the continent.
American beaches that would normally be packed on July 4 are shut on both coasts as California and Florida suffer alarming surges in cases, while bars in states such as Texas and Michigan have had to close on what should be one of their busiest weekends of the year.
New York's public beaches reopened earlier in the week but locals in the city that was once the global epicenter of the crisis remain wary of a resurgence.
Mark Ruiz, who came to New York's Coney Island beach with his wife and two children for a picnic, said he was "definitely worried" about the virus and his family would scrupulously respect social distancing rules.
"I'll have my mask on as soon as we leave the beach, so we came prepared," said Ruiz, who works as an ice cream distributor to restaurants around the city.
"I just can't stay home on the Fourth of July, I gotta take my kids out. We can't be in a bubble all summer."
For his part, Trump headlined an event called "Salute to America" along with a military flyover and a fireworks display.
Guests including doctors, nurses and members of the military and their families were invited to the White House to watch proceedings.
But numbers were well down on previous years and there will be no concert to keep the crowds on the National Mall until late at night as is usually the case.
Ahead of the night-time celebrations, a series of anti-racism marches took place on the National Mall with Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis adding to the anger of protestors.
America's former colonial master, Britain, was decidedly more cheerful on Saturday as local pubs reopened for the first time since late March.
"It feels amazing," said Leo Richard Bill, a soldier, after getting through the door of one of London's buzziest restaurants on the River Thames's popular south bank.
"It's been what, like three months since... me and everyone else haven't been able to get outside and have a good time. So yeah, it feels good to get amongst it," he said.
Britain's Prince William got into the spirit by having his picture taken sipping a glass of cider and dutifully using hand sanitizer from a wall-mounted dispenser.
And finance minister Rishi Sunak urged Britons to "eat out to help out" -- a message that did not appear to sit well with Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"I'm no killjoy," said Hancock. "But the virus can still kill."
Nations are rethinking how their cities can function and economies survive in the face of an illness that has infected at least 11 million and killed 529,000 globally.
Governments are trying to carefully calibrate their reopenings -- rousing their economies without triggering outbreaks and more lockdowns.
The lockdown announcement in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region came after regional officials noted a "sharp rise" in infections around the town of Lerida about 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of Barcelona.
In Australia thousands of residents in high-rise apartments in Melbourne went into lockdown for at least five days as the country recorded its biggest daily increase of infections in months.
"There are many, many vulnerable people who live in these towers," Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said.