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Virus lawsuits hit gov’ts as markets bounce back


ROME, Italy (AFP) — Governments faced some of the first legal actions yesterday over their handling of the novel coronavirus, as global markets rebounded from losses fuelled by fears of a second wave of the pandemic.

The recovery in stocks came despite fresh evidence of the economic damage caused by lockdowns, with the British economy shrinking by a record 20.4 per cent in April and Eurozone industrial output hammered.

In Italy, one of the countries initially worst hit after the disease emerged in China last year, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was questioned by prosecutors Friday over the Government’s initial response.

Prosecutors in the hard-hit northern Lombardy region have launched an investigation into why a quarantined “red zone” was not enforced around two towns before a national lockdown.

Separately, 50 family members of coronavirus victims in Bergamo province filed complaints on Wednesday in the first such legal group action in Italy.

And in Britain, airlines British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair launched legal action against the UK Government over a “flawed” 14-day coronavirus quarantine system introduced this week.

Britain has the world’s second-highest coronavirus death toll after the United States, with more than 41,000 deaths. Worldwide, the pandemic has killed more than 421,000 people and infected over 7.5 million.

Fears of a second wave of the virus in the United States plagued markets on Thursday after a spike in new infections in key states including Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, which fanned concerns as the nation slowly reopens.

However, Wall Street and European stocks bounced back as investors snapped up bargains after the previous day’s rout.

With the United States rolling back shutdowns under pressure from President Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election this year, US consumer sentiment jumped more than expected in June.

Trump also announced plans for a set of re-election rallies this month, despite signs that the pandemic is not tamed there, with more than two million infections and nearly 114,000 deaths.

Trump supporters who attend the rallies must sign a waiver promising not to sue if they catch COVID-19 at the event, according to his campaign website.

The virus and resulting lockdowns have caused a spike in US unemployment — 44.2 million people have been forced out of jobs since mid-March.

Europe is also pushing ahead with its reopening, with a number of countries preparing to reopen borders on a limited basis on Monday after the EU Commission urged a relaxation of restrictions.

Greece said it would welcome tourists again, although Britons remain barred and passengers from Italy, Spain and the Netherlands must undergo tests on arrival.

Germany said it would end land border checks on Monday night.

And Italy said it would allow amateur contact sports — including team sports — from June 25.

Yet health officials have warned that the virus is far from contained.

“The fight is not over,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

“Most people remain susceptible to this virus and the threat of resurgence remains very real.”

In China, Beijing said Friday it would delay primary school students returning to class after three fresh coronavirus cases emerged in the capital — the first after two months of no infections in the city.

China has largely brought domestic coronavirus infections under control since the disease emerged in the central city of Wuhan, and the majority of cases in recent months have been among overseas nationals returning home.

In Central and South America, more than 1.5 million people have been infected — 70,000 of them are already dead — with no signs of the disease slowing, especially in hard-hit Brazil.

The crisis could provoke the region’s “worst recession in history”, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said.

In India, experts are warning the country is still a long way from its peak.

Deaths from coronavirus in New Delhi are almost twice as high as official figures show, a city leader said, as India overtook Britain with the fourth-highest number of cases worldwide.

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