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US virus aid far off as EU digs deep to aid ailing economies

MITO – U.S. lawmakers remained far apart Tuesday on a deal to provide more financial relief for Americans as European leaders thrashed out a plan for their pandemic-ravaged economies.

Meanwhile, testing of an experimental vaccine showed it may produce an immune response against the coronavirus. The urgency of such research is rising with the pandemic still gaining momentum in parts of the U.S., India and elsewhere in the developing world.

India added more than 37,000 new cases for a national total that now exceeds 1,155,000, the third most behind the U.S., with more than 3.8 million, and Brazil, with 2.1 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

India's new cases have hovered around 40,000 a day in recent days, with experts warning a series of peaks lie ahead as the virus spreads in rural areas where the healthcare system is weak. The Indian Council for Medical Research, the top medical research body, was urging state governments to add more labs and improve testing capacity for the country of 1.4 billion people.

Lebanon’s health minister said the financially troubled country, which had previously managed to contain the coronavirus, was sliding toward a critical stage with a new surge in infections, more than a fifth of them untraceable, after lockdown restrictions were lifted and the airport reopened.

“The danger of community spread is still possible because the country has opened up,” the minister of health, Hamad Hassan, said in an interview with The Associated Press late Monday.

As coronavirus outbreaks wax and wane, much hinges on the effectiveness of contact tracing of newly discovered cases. In Spain's Catalonia and other regions an early detection system meant to snuff out outbreaks and prevent cascades of cases appears to be inadequate, doctors and patients said.

Spain imposed a three-month lockdown earlier this year to rein in a devastating first wave of infections that left at least 28,000 dead. Now, Barcelona and an agricultural area in the same Catalonia region have become the two areas hit hardest by a resurgence of the virus.

“We are seeing a rise in cases and community contagion that worries us,” Dr. Jacobo Mendioroz, the epidemiologist in charge of Catalonia’s virus response, told Catalonia Radio on Sunday. “The system of contact tracers can still be improved. Now we have 300 tracers and we are going to add another 600 shortly.”

Worldwide, almost 610,000 people have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins, with more than 14.7 million people infected. Both numbers are widely acknowledged to be lower than the true toll of the disease.

Weary after four days and nights of haggling, European Union leaders clinched an unprecedented 1.8 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund to confront the biggest recession in the history of the region, which faces an estimated economic contraction of 8.3%.

A 750 billion euro ($858 billion) coronavirus fund will finance loans and grants for countries hit hardest by the virus. That comes on top of the seven-year, 1 trillion euro EU budget.

“We have laid the financial foundations for the EU for the next seven years and came up with a response to this arguably biggest crisis of the European Union,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The pandemic has killed around 135,000 people in EU countries. The U.S. has surpassed that, with nearly 141,000 dead, according to the Johns Hopkins data.

As the first round of U.S. federal relieve expires, the political stakes of providing more support to the American economy are high and rising ahead of the November election. Unemployment claims have topped 1 million for 17 straight weeks, leaving many households in a cash crunch and at risk of losing employer-backed health insurance coverage.

Congressional Republicans remained at odds with Democrats over how much money is enough to ease the financial burden as businesses endure repeated closures to contain the spread of the virus.

Democrats have passed a $3 trillion package in the House. The Republican plan totals about $1 trillion.

State governments strapped for medical resources have been forced to borrow billions of dollars and slash costs by furloughing workers, delaying construction projects, cutting school aid and even closing highway rest areas.

Businesses also are being squeezed. Potions in Motions, a catering company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would ordinarily be in high gear for summer weddings, graduations and corporate events, but is down to “micro-events” of eight to 15 people and has had to cut most of its staff.

“We’re trying to just stay alive," said company founder Jason Savino. “There’s no support coming from any government or anywhere that are accommodating these businesses that are being ordered to dial their business back.”

Financial markets pushed higher on Tuesday, tracking overnight gains on Wall Street after scientists at Oxford University said their experimental vaccine had prompted a protective immune response in hundreds of people in an early trial.

The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization hailed the results as “good news” but warned “there’s a long way to go.”

“We now need to move into larger scale real-world trials,” Dr. Michael Ryan told reporters in Geneva.

In Asia, the latest virus flare-ups in Australia, South Korea and China’s far west appeared to be coming under control.

Australian military personnel were helping health authorities in Victoria state, where the country’s second largest city, Melbourne, has shut down to combat a rebound in infections.

“We’re still very much in the hard part of this fight, as you can see from the daily case numbers, and I’m not expecting that to change a lot in the short term,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “And we just need to keep working the problem.”

South Korea reported 45 new virus cases, 25 of them among quarantined people arriving from abroad. In many Asian countries, most newly reported infections are among those new arrivals, raising hopes that local outbreaks may be under control.

But Japan has been reporting hundreds of new cases daily, especially in Tokyo, and its death toll has risen above 1,000, with nearly 26,000 total infections.

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AP journalists around the globe contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.