US coronavirus infections top 671,000 as China revises death toll higher

China's government has defended the accuracy of its data

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China revised its coronavirus death toll upward and recorded its steepest quarterly economic slide on record, as the U.S. braced for prolonged pain from extended lockdowns in some hard-hit states and the White House charted a gradual path to reopening.

The U.S. death toll from Covid-19 continued to rise a day after it nearly doubled to 4,591 over 24 hours Thursday, with New York, New Jersey and Michigan among the hardest-hit states. After appearing to stabilize, new cases in the U.S. have risen for three consecutive days, with the total now over 671,000, data from Johns Hopkins University showed. With more than 2.1 million cases world-wide, the global death toll approached 150,000 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins. Of those, more than 33,000 were in the U.S.

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China raised its official coronavirus death toll by almost 40% to 4,632 after officials in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, declared the discovery of 1,290 previously uncounted cases. Wuhan health officials told China's official Xinhua News Agency that some patients who died at home weren't recorded in the system, while overwhelmed hospitals had mishandled the recording of other deaths.

Epidemiologists, U.S. intelligence sources and some local residents have said in recent weeks they believe Chinese authorities substantially undercounted coronavirus infections and deaths. China's government has defended the accuracy of its data.

In the latest signal of the mounting economic wreckage left by the pandemic, China reported that its economy, the world's second-largest after the U.S., contracted by 6.8% in the first three months of the year. That marked its first contraction since Beijing began reporting quarterly gross domestic product in 1992.

Investment bank UBS estimates that 50 million to 60 million service-sector workers in China and 20 million more in the industrial and construction sectors had lost their jobs or been unable to return to work in the first quarter because of travel restrictions and other quarantine measures.

In the U.S., hopes for a faster reopening of business were tempered by decisions by some states, including New York, to extend restrictions such as closures of nonessential businesses.

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After initially sparring, state governors and the White House appeared to come to a consensus on a gradual process to lift restrictions after the Trump administration set out criteria for a three-phase approach that relies on governors to set specific timelines for their states.

"This is a gradual process, as the case load in a state continues to go down, restrictions can continue to be eased and come off," Mr. Trump said in a White House briefing.

Meantime, the economic stakes continue to grow. More than 22 million U.S. workers, or 13% of the labor force, applied for jobless benefits in the month since mid-March, according to Labor Department data. Previously the largest number of workers to seek benefits in a four-week stretch was 2.7 million in 1982. Industries such as bars, restaurants and mall retailers that have been required to close in some areas are among the hardest hit.

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As job losses mount, a $350 billion loan program for small businesses has run out of money while U.S. lawmakers remain divided over the terms for additional funding.

In South Korea, the government reported a loss of 195,000 jobs in March--the first time monthly employment has fallen since 2009--despite the country's success in lowering its daily infection rates since a major outbreak in February.

In the U.K., Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he recovers from the virus, said the country's lockdown will remain in place for three more weeks at least.

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Underscoring how the virus can inject volatility into politics, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down Covid-19 as a "little flu," fired his health minister, who had pushed measures such as social distancing. Brazil's death toll is approaching 2,000.

Singapore, which had appeared to keep infection rates down in the early days of the pandemic, grappled with a surge in new cases linked to complexes of migrant-worker dormitories. The country reported a new daily record of 728 new cases Thursday, bringing its total to more than 4,000.

But there were some bright spots elsewhere in Asia. Hong Kong, among the first cities to get hit by the virus outside mainland China, has reported new cases in the single digits for several days, including only one new case on Thursday.

In Australia, a new study led by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity found the coronavirus was on a path toward dying out in the country, with each sick patient infecting one or fewer people.