Surging US sunbelt cases triggers political firefight

The number of new coronavirus cases continued to rise alarmingly in US sunbelt states on Thursday, triggering a political firefight that suggested the new outbreak could dominate the 2020 presidential campaign.

Florida was the latest state to record a sharp jump in infections, reporting 10,109 new cases over the last 24 hours — a record increase and upsurge from the 6,605 recorded on Wednesday.* Arizona, which is also facing a new outbreak, reported 3,333 cases, which was near its highs but below Wednesday’s record.

The number of new cases nationwide rose more than 50,000 in a day for the first time on Wednesday. In addition to Arizona, four states had one-day record increases: California, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.

President Donald Trump insisted authorities were “putting out the fires”, despite alarms raised earlier this week by Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert, that the new outbreak risked spinning out of control.

“Some areas that were hard-hit are now doing very well,” Mr Trump said at a White House news conference intended to tout a sharp drop in the unemployment rate. “Some were doing very well and we thought they may be gone and they flare up and we’re putting out the fires.”

Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s presumptive Democratic challenger, used a set-piece live address to attack the president for not mentioning the 50,000 new cases and failing to provide a co-ordinated response to reopening.

“We’ve seen cases spiking around the country; some businesses are closing down again,” Mr Biden said from his home in Delaware. “Trump wants to declare this health crisis over and unemployment solved. He’s deadly wrong — on both fronts.”

Mr Biden contrasted the US response to its peers, including the EU, which has banned Americans from travelling to Europe owing to the rise in US cases.

“We’re already at more than 128,000 dead — and that number keeps climbing,” he said. “Other countries have figured out how to get the virus under control, reopen their economies, and put their people back to work.”

Florida has been established as one of the new US hotspots for Covid-19, but the state government has been reluctant to further roll back its reopening plans, having already ordered bars across the state to close last week.

“We’re not going back, closing things,” Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor and a Trump ally, said on Wednesday, suggesting that the spread was more a result of younger people failing to comply with health guidelines than the reopening of businesses.

Ahead of the July 4 weekend, which has the potential to be a so-called superspreader event, some regions in Florida have issued their own guidelines and restrictions to residents.

Cities in the Florida Keys decided on Wednesday to cancel their fireworks displays, while festivities in places such as Orlando are still expected to go ahead.

*This story has been amended to include infections in Florida involving non-residents