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US Tops 5 Million Confirmed Virus Cases08/09 10:29

   With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million Sunday, by 
far the highest of any country, the failure of the most powerful nation in the 
world to contain the scourge has been met with astonishment and alarm in Europe.

   ROME (AP) -- With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million 
Sunday, by far the highest of any country, the failure of the most powerful 
nation in the world to contain the scourge has been met with astonishment and 
alarm in Europe.

   Perhaps nowhere outside the U.S. is America's bungled virus response viewed 
with more consternation than in Italy, which was ground zero of Europe's 
epidemic. Italians were unprepared when the outbreak exploded in February, and 
the country still has one of the world's highest official death tolls at 35,000.

   But after a strict nationwide, 10-week lockdown, vigilant tracing of new 
clusters and general acceptance of mask mandates and social distancing, Italy 
has become a model of virus containment.

   "Don't they care about their health?" a mask-clad Patrizia Antonini asked 
about people in the United States as she walked with friends along the banks of 
Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. "They need to take our precautions. ... They 
need a real lockdown."

   Much of the incredulity in Europe stems from the fact that America had the 
benefit of time, European experience and medical know-how to treat the virus 
that the continent itself didn't have when the first COVID-19 patients started 
filling intensive care units.

   Yet, more than four months into a sustained outbreak, the U.S. reached the 5 
million mark, according to the running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. 
Health officials believe the actual number is perhaps 10 times higher, or 
closer to 50 million, given testing limitations and the fact that as many as 
40% of all those who are infected have no symptoms.

   "We Italians always saw America as a model," said Massimo Franco, a 
columnist with daily Corriere della Sera. "But with this virus we've discovered 
a country that is very fragile, with bad infrastructure and a public health 
system that is nonexistent."

   Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza hasn't shied away from criticizing 
the U.S., officially condemning as "wrong" Washington's decision to withhold 
funding from the World Health Organization and expressing amazement at 
President Donald Trump's virus response.

   After Trump finally donned a mask last month, Speranza told La7 television: 
"I'm not surprised by Trump's behavior now; I'm profoundly surprised by his 
behavior before."

   With America's world's-highest death toll of more than 160,000, its 
politicized resistance to masks and its rising caseload, European nations have 
barred American tourists and visitors from other countries with growing cases 
from freely traveling to the bloc.

   France and Germany are now imposing tests on arrival for travelers from "at 
risk" countries, the U.S. included.

   "I am very well aware that this impinges on individual freedoms, but I 
believe that this is a justifiable intervention," German Health Minister Jens 
Spahn said last week.

   Mistakes were made in Europe, too, from delayed lockdowns to insufficient 
protections for nursing home elderly and critical shortages of tests and 
protective equipment for medical personnel.

   The virus is still raging in some Balkan countries, and thousands of 
maskless protesters demanded an end to virus restrictions in Berlin earlier 
this month. Hard-hit Spain, France and Germany have seen infection rebounds 
with new cases topping 1,000 a day, and Italy's cases inched up over 500 on 
Friday. Britain is still seeing an estimated 3,700 new infections daily, and 
some scientists say the country's beloved pubs might have to close again if 
schools are to reopen in September without causing a new wave.

   Europe as a whole has seen over 207,000 confirmed virus deaths, by Johns 
Hopkins' count.

   In the U.S., new cases are running at about 54,000 a day --- an immensely 
high number even when taking into account the country's larger population. And 
while that's down from a peak of well over 70,000 last month, cases are rising 
in nearly 20 states, and deaths are climbing in most.

   In contrast, at least for now Europe appears to have the virus somewhat 
under control.

   "Had the medical professionals been allowed to operate in the States, you 
would have belatedly gotten to a point of getting to grips with this back in 
March," said Scott Lucas, professor of international studies at the University 
of Birmingham, England. "But of course, the medical and public health 
professionals were not allowed to proceed unchecked," he said, referring to 
Trump's frequent undercutting of his own experts.

   When the virus first appeared in the United States, Trump and his supporters 
quickly dismissed it as either a "hoax" or a virus that would quickly disappear 
once warmer weather arrived. At one point, Trump suggested that ultraviolet 
light or injecting disinfectants would eradicate the virus. (He later said he 
was being facetious).

   Trump's frequent complaints about Dr. Anthony Fauci have regularly made 
headlines in Europe, where the U.S. infectious-disease expert is a respected 
figure. Italy's leading COVID-19 hospital offered Fauci a job if Trump fired 
him.

   Trump has defended the U.S. response, blaming China, where the virus was 
first detected, for America's problems and saying the U.S. numbers are so high 
because there is so much testing. Trump supporters and Americans who have 
refused to wear masks against all medical advice back that line.

   "There's no reason to fear any sickness that's out there," said Julia 
Ferjo, a mother of three in Alpine, Texas, who is "vehemently" against wearing 
a mask. Ferjo, 35, teaches fitness classes in a large gym with open doors. 
She doesn't allow participants to wear masks.

   "When you're breathing that hard, I would pass out," she said. "I do not 
want people just dropping like flies."

   And health officials watched with alarm as thousands of bikers gathered 
Friday in the small South Dakota city of Sturgis for an annual 10-day 
motorcycle rally. The state has no mask mandates, and many bikers expressed 
defiance of measures meant to prevent the virus's spread.

   Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia 
University Irving Medical Center, who is leading a team seeking treatments for 
COVID-19, decried such behavior, as well as the country's handling of the virus.

   "There's no national strategy, no national leadership, and there's no urging 
for the public to act in unison and carry out the measures together," he said. 
"That's what it takes, and we have completely abandoned that as a nation."

   When he gets on Zoom calls with counterparts from around the globe, 
"everyone cannot believe what they're seeing in the U.S. and they cannot 
believe the words coming out of the leadership,'' he said.

   Even the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has taken the 
unusual step of criticizing the U.S. when she urged Washington to reconsider 
its decision to break ties with the WHO. She also issued veiled criticism of 
U.S. efforts to buy up stocks of any vaccine that might prove effective, vowing 
the EU will work to provide access to everyone "irrespective of where they 
live."

   Many Europeans point proudly to their national health care systems that not 
only test but treat COVID-19 for free, unlike the American system, where the 
virus crisis has only exacerbated income and racial inequalities in obtaining 
health care.

   "The coronavirus has brutally stripped bare the vulnerability of a country 
that has been sliding for years," wrote Italian author Massimo Gaggi in his new 
book "Crack America" (Broken America), about U.S. problems that long predated 
COVID-19.

   Gaggi said he started writing the book last year and thought then that the 
title would be taken as a provocative wake-up call. Then the virus hit.

   "By March the title wasn't a provocation any longer," he said. "It was 
obvious."

 
 
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