WASHINGTON: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases neared one million in the United States on Tuesday and the projected death toll rose in a closely watched academic model, even as some states eased restrictions aimed at fighting the pandemic battering the economy.

Over three million people are now infected worldwide, and more than 211,000 have been killed since the virus first emerged in China late last year.

With President Donald Trump’s economic adviser forecasting an unemployment rate of more than 16 percent for April and many Americans chafing under stay-at-home orders, about a dozen states were moving to restart their battered economies despite a lack of large-scale virus testing.

Public health experts have warned that a premature rollback of social distancing policies aimed at curbing the spread of the pathogen could cause a surge in new infections.

Georgia, at the vanguard of states reopening businesses, on Monday permitted restaurant dining for the first time in a month.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday he would let the state’s stay-at-home order expire and begin reopening businesses, including restaurants and retail shops, in phases beginning on Friday.

The governors of other states, including hard-hit New York, have put off the reopening of businesses out of concern they might fuel a second wave of infections.

The US Chamber of Commerce, the top lobbying group for the nation’s business sector, called for consistency across federal, state and local governments to reopen the economy, but urged against any public health guidelines becoming regulations that could harm businesses as they seek to restart.

The number of confirmed US infections _ just shy of one million _ has doubled in 18 days and comprises a third of all reported infections globally.

The University of Washington’s model, often cited by White House officials and state public health authorities, upwardly revised its projected coronavirus death toll to more than 74,000 US lives by Aug 4, compared with its previous forecast of 67,000.

The university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said late on Monday that the number of US deaths caused by the virus was not abating as quickly as previously projected after hitting a daily peak on April 15 with about 2,700.

While most states seem to have passed their peaks in the pandemic, seven _ Hawaii, Mississippi, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska and North Dakota _ may be experiencing their peaks now or in the coming weeks, according to the model.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2020

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