by Susan Stumme, with Danny Kemp in The Hague and AFP bureaus
US President Donald Trump threatened to cut ties with China over its role in the spread of the coronavirus, as the global death toll from the disease topped 300,000.
Despite fears of a second wave of infections, national and local governments around the world are easing lockdown orders as they try to get stalled economies moving again.
But there were warnings Friday that some of the world’s poorest people remain the most vulnerable, with predictions that a quarter of a billion Africans could be infected without urgent action.
The nexus of poverty and risk was highlighted by the discovery of cases in the world’s biggest refugee camp, where upwards of a million Rohingya live in squalor.
“We are looking at the very real prospect that thousands of people may die from COVID-19” in these camps, Save The Children’s Bangladesh health director Shamim Jahan said.
“There are no intensive care beds at this moment” in the camps at Cox’s Bazaar, Jahan said.
Track and trace teams were fanning out Friday to follow up on two positive tests.
Epidemiologists have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped, sewage-soaked alleys of the camps, where the persecuted Muslim minority have lived since fleeing a military offensive in neighboring Myanmar more than two years ago.
Social distancing is all but impossible in such close quarters, and health experts say only a vaccine will prevent widespread infection.
Despite scientists working flat out towards that aim, experts say it could still be many months — or even years — away.
And without a robust roll-out plan, even highly developed countries could struggle to take advantage of any breakthrough.
In the US, the man formerly charged with developing a vaccine told lawmakers the government in Washington has no “master plan” to fight the pandemic and is unprepared to distribute enough vaccines to immunize millions of Americans.
“We don’t have a single point of leadership right now for this response,” said Rick Bright, who was removed from his job last month.
‘Disappointed in China’
The United States has registered almost 86,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 — the highest toll of any nation, with a third of all known global infections.
In an interview aired Thursday, Trump again accused Beijing of concealing the true scale of the problem after the virus emerged in Wuhan late last year.
“I’m very disappointed in China. I will tell you that right now,” he said.
Asked how the United States might choose to retaliate against what he has dubbed the “Plague from China”, Trump said: “We could cut off the whole relationship”.
The US and China are the world’s two largest economies, doing hundreds of billions of dollars of mutually beneficial trade every year.
Nevertheless, the US president is keen to make Beijing the bogeyman in an election year when gloomy news has become par for the course.
New figures showed a further three million job losses, taking the newly unemployed to 36.5 million — more than 10 percent of the US population.
Over a third of them will have trouble paying their bills, a survey has revealed.
States are slashing their budgets because of tax shortfalls caused by the job losses, with California announcing it would have a $54 billion deficit this year.
Germany’s treasury is also expecting a big hole in its budget, with around 100 billion euros wiped off the tax take in 2020.
Europe’s biggest economy has already slipped into a recession, with GDP expected to shrink by 6.3 percent this year — the biggest contraction since 1949.
‘We may need more graves’
Much of Europe appears to be over the worst, with more parts of the continent opening up.
Austria and Germany were expected to open their border on Friday, while Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were set to create their own “mini-Shengen on the Baltic”, allowing free movement among the three countries.
But in Latin America, the news was looking increasingly dire.
Thousands of fresh graves are being dug in the Chilean capital’s main cemetery, as the infection rate soars and as Santiago enters lockdown from Friday.
“We realize that this is a historical moment and that we may need more graves, because we see what’s happened in other countries,” cemetery director Rashid Saud told AFP.
The virus has been slower to take hold in Latin America, but numbers are rising rapidly.
Africa, which has also appeared to have escaped the worst of the disease so far, is a hotspot waiting to happen, the World Health Organization warned Friday.
Researchers say fragile health systems on the world’s poorest continent could quickly be overwhelmed, with modeling suggesting 231 million people could become infected.
Around 150,000 of them would be expected to die, the study, published in the journal BMJ Global Health suggested.