WASHINGTON — Coronavirus deaths in the United States surged to their highest level in months as Muslim pilgrims began on Wednesday a pandemic-curtailed version of their sacred hajj.
The human toll of the disease surged to a level not seen since mid-May in the US, the world's hardest-hit country, with nearly 1,600 deaths recorded in 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University reported on Tuesday.
Case numbers have been rising for weeks across swathes of the nation, leaving health authorities and leaders to watch nervously for a feared spike in fatalities.
President Donald Trump's effort to be re-elected in November has been dogged by a crisis that has already killed nearly 150,000 Americans and wreaked havoc on the world's biggest economy.
Twitter removed a video that Trump retweeted in which doctors made allegedly false claims about the pandemic, saying it was in violation of its "COVID-19 misinformation policy."
Earlier, Facebook had also withdrawn the video, which claimed masks and lockdowns were not necessary to counter the pandemic.
Resurgent virus outbreaks have forced nations around the world to step up measures against the contagion, leaving holiday tourism and event calenders in shambles.
The annual hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia's Mecca drew 2.5 million Muslims last year, but in pandemic-shadowed 2020 just 10,000 already residing in the kingdom will be allowed in.
The chosen ones were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca over the weekend.
State media showed health workers sanitizing their luggage, and some pilgrims reported receiving electronic wristbands to let authorities monitor their whereabouts.
In addition to being a spiritual highlight to faithful Muslims, the pilgrimage normally provides a boost to the local economy that will be sorely missed this year.
In Europe, resurgent virus cases are blasting a similar hole in local hopes for a financial windfall in summer holiday hotspots.
Spain, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, insists it is a safe destination for tourists despite tackling 361 active outbreaks and more than 4,000 new cases.
'Rapidly and uncontrollably'
Several countries have nonetheless imposed quarantines on people returning from Spain, including its biggest tourist market, Britain.
Spain's strict lockdown destroyed more than a million jobs during the second quarter of the year, the National Statistics Institute (INE) reported on Tuesday - mainly in tourism.
Germany, which has registered an average of 557 new cases a day over the past week, also tweaked its mask rules, saying they must be worn outdoors wherever social distancing was not possible.
"We must prevent that the virus once again spreads rapidly and uncontrollably," its disease control agency said on Tuesday.
Iran suffered its worst day yet of the pandemic, reporting 235 new deaths on Tuesday, a record toll for a single day in the Middle East's hardest-hit country.
"The situation is worrying," health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said, with Tehran, the most populous province, hitting the highest category on the country's coronavirus risk scale.
Officials have made masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and allowed Tehran and other hard-hit provinces reimpose restrictions progressively lifted since April to reopen Iran's sanctions-hit economy.
Lebanon also raised fears for its crisis-hit health sector after recording 175 cases on Saturday, its highest daily tally.
On Tuesday, it announced a full lockdown July 30-August 3 over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and limits on bar and restaurant capacity.
And in Colombia, President Ivan Duque announced an extension of lockdown measures until August 30, as the number of cases in the South American country continues to climb. Colombia has reported more than 9,000 COVID-19 deaths in nearly five months of the pandemic. — AFP