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New York closes schools as Europe coronavirus deaths rise

NEW YORK: New York announced Wednesday it would close schools to battle a rise in coronavirus infections as the death rate in Europe surged and protests against restrictions turned violent.

The toughened measures in America s most-populous city came despite Pharma giant Pfizer boosting hopes of a possible end to the pandemic by announcing improved results for its vaccine.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York s 1,800 public schools would revert to remote learning from Thursday after the city recorded a seven-day average positivity rate of three percent.

“We must fight back the second wave of Covid-19,” he said.

US states and cities are imposing a raft of new restrictions, including home confinement, the closure of indoor dining and a limit on gatherings as cases soar across the country.

Europe remains the hardest-hit region, accounting for 46 percent of new global cases and 49 percent of deaths last week, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

While infection rates in Europe have slowed, the WHO on Wednesday said the death rate went up by 18 percent last week from the previous week.

The figures showed the only region where cases and deaths declined last week was Southeast Asia.

Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have died of Covid-19 and over 55 million have been infected with the virus since it first surfaced in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Many European countries are extending heavy restrictions on daily life in attempts to curb the spread of the virus.

A French government spokesman said authorities are unlikely to lift a partial lockdown any time soon while Portugal s government was preparing to extend measures for two more weeks.

In Hungary, a state of emergency that enables partial lockdown measures has now been extended until February.

In Berlin, police fired water cannon to disperse thousands of unmasked protesters demonstrating against tightened restrictions.

The protesters, who have equated the restrictions to Nazi-era rules, responded by chanting “Shame! Shame!”

The protest came a day after clashes with police at a similar demonstration in the Slovak capital Bratislava attended by thousands of far-right supporters.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin voiced alarm at his country s rising fatality rate but stopped short of introducing strict measures seen in many European countries.

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