RIO DE JANEIRO: A demonstrator with a Brazilian flag is seen besides crosses during a tribute to COVID-19 victims organized by the Rio de Paz NGO at Copacabana beach on Saturday. - AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil became the second country to pass the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths Saturday as US President Donald Trump signed executive actions extending economic help in the world's worst-hit nation. The US leader's orders followed failure by his Republican party and opposition Democrats to agree on a new stimulus package despite the country's double digit unemployment, business downturn and stubbornly high coronavirus infection rates.

Meanwhile just a day after Latin America and the Caribbean became the hardest-hit region in the global pandemic, Brazil reported a total of 100,477 fatalities, joining the United States as the only two countries to surpass the six-digit death mark. Tolls continue to rise across the world, with global fatalities having now soared past 722,000. More than 162,000 of those were in the United States, which was on the verge of recording 5 million cases.

India has more than two million infections - its caseload having doubled in three weeks-and has recorded 42,518 deaths. And more than 10,000 people have died from coronavirus in South Africa, the health ministry said Saturday, as football resumed following a 145-day coronavirus-induced shutdown.

Paris makes masks mandatory
Growing infections in and around Paris have prompted officials to make face masks compulsory outdoors in crowded areas and tourist hotspots in the city and surrounding areas from today. The mask will be obligatory for all those aged 11 and over "in certain very crowded zones," said a police statement, including the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.

As temperatures soared across western Europe, holidaymakers crowded beaches despite warnings about the risk of infection. On Saturday, a day after Britain recorded its hottest August day in 17 years at 36.4 degrees Celsius, much of its southern coastline was packed with tourists. Local authorities in Germany warned that some beaches and lakes would be closed if there were too many people.

Belgian police meanwhile arrested several people Saturday at the resort of Blankenberge after a brawl broke out on a beach between officers and youths they had told to leave for refusing to respect virus safety measures. And around 5,000 people demonstrated in Vienna for increased financial support for nightlife and relaxing coronavirus regulations. Some workplaces remain hotspots of infection. Meat giant Danish Crown announced Saturday it had shut down a major slaughterhouse in Denmark after nearly 150 employees came down with the virus.

New Zealand 'milestone'
New Zealand marked 100 days yesterday with no recorded cases of the coronavirus in the community but health officials warned there was no room for complacency. There are still 23 active cases but all were detected at the border when entering the country and are being held in managed isolation facilities.

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has won widespread praise for its effective handling of the coronavirus since closing its borders on March 19. The World Health Organization has hailed the country as an example to others for having "successfully eliminated community transmission". Since the first patient was diagnosed in February, there have been 1,219 confirmed cases of the virus in New Zealand with the last case of community transmission recorded on May 1.

As a result, New Zealanders are enjoying a near-normal, pre-coronavirus lifestyle with no social distancing and spectators allowed at sports and cultural events, but with the border strictly controlled and all arrivals required to spend 14 days in quarantine. The government has maintained the prospect of a second wave remains a possibility and is pushing for all households to keep emergency supply kits including masks.

Indian strike
India now has the world's third-highest pandemic caseload after the United States and Brazil. Women health workers in several Indian states staged a two-day strike from Friday and plan a mass protest in New Delhi on Sunday for better pay, a higher pension and anti-virus protection equipment and testing.

Shiksha Rana, a social health activist in New Delhi, told AFP at least 200 health workers - and their families - had been infected in the Delhi region alone. "We had to crowd-fund money for their treatment and food for their families," she said. In the United States, where many Americans have been relying on relief measures approved earlier by Congress but which mostly expired in July, Trump said his decision to circumvent lawmakers with executive actions would mean money is "rapidly distributed."

One measure aims to get $400 a week added to unemployment benefits, while two others offer some protection from evictions and relief for student loans. Another, opposed by many Republicans as well as Democrats, orders a freeze in payroll taxes. However, the measures, which Trump signed at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, are likely to face court challenges since they circumvent Congress, which has constitutional power over most spending decisions.

Palestinian children returned to school in Gaza after a five-month suspension due to a coronavirus lockdown - but with fewer classes and special safety measures in place. The United Nations agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said over 285,000 pupils had returned to its 277 schools. Gaza, under Israeli blockade since 2007, has reported 78 cases of the COVID-19 illness, with one death. - Agencies