WASHINGTON: The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped a quarter of a million on Tuesday, with the US government predicting a further surge in fatalities as an international vaccine drive garnered US$8 billion in pledges.

The dire forecast from the United States came as much of the Western world emerged from weeks of lockdown, with hopes that the disease may have peaked in Europe, where deaths in the worst affected countries have dropped after nearly two months of confinement.

But the global progress did little to cool a war of words between the US and China over responsibility for the pandemic – a feud that has been fueled by US claims the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory – a theory the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled “speculative.”

An AFP tally of official figures showed Europe is the hardest-hit continent with around 145,000 fatalities. The US has recorded close to 68,700. Together they account for more than 85 percent of global deaths.

Since the disease first surfaced in China late last year the number of confirmed cases has reached almost 3.6 million.

The grim figures were compounded Monday by an internal government estimate in Washington that forecast the daily Covid-19 infection rate in the US could surge more than eight-fold to 200,000 per day by June 1, and the death toll could rise to 3,000.

A special telethon backed by the WHO but snubbed by Washington pulled in US$8.1 billion to support international efforts to develop and manufacture a vaccine to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Leaders of major European powers, Japan and Canada made the biggest pledges, along with philanthropists including Bill and Melinda Gates.

“This was a powerful and inspiring demonstration of global solidarity,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. — AFP

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