Muted Independence Day for US amid coronavirus surge, protests
As some states report alarming surge in cases, Trump gives angry speech
WASHINGTON: The US marked its Independence Day on Saturday in a sombre mood, as a record surge in coronavirus cases, anti-racism protests and an angry speech from President Donald Trump have cast a shadow over what normally are festive celebrations.
Beaches - normally packed on July 4th - were closed as California and Florida suffer alarming surges in Covid-19 infections.
"You should assume everyone around you is infectious," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned.
Across the country, Main Street parades have been cancelled, backyard barbecues scaled down, and family reunions put off amid worries about spreading the virus on a day when Americans typically celebrate their 1776 declaration of independence from Britain.
Florida said on Saturday it had marked a new daily high in virus cases at 11,458 - more than any other state - and Miami Beach imposed a curfew and made mask-wearing mandatory in public. Yet some beaches remained open.
The US virus death toll is fast approaching 130,000, roughly one-quarter the world's total.
Fireworks displays are typically a high point of the holiday, but an estimated 80 per cent of the events, including in cities like Indianapolis, Atlanta and Nashville, were cancelled this year.
Some locales are urging people to watch fireworks from cars. But other Americans, weary of lockdowns or just defiant, carry on as if the pandemic were a thing of the past.
Mr Trump was optimistic on virus trends that have health officials deeply concerned.
"We got hit with this terrible plague from China," he said, "and now we are getting close to fighting our way out of it."
In an Independence Day speech at the White House on Saturday, Mr Trump claimed without evidence that 99 per cent of cases in the US were "totally harmless".
The President, who has faced criticism over his handling of the pandemic, said China must be "held accountable" for failing to contain the disease.
Mr Trump also said the US would have a vaccine or therapeutic solution to the virus "long before" the end of 2020. The administration held a fireworks display over the National Mall as night fell after Mr Trump's speech, despite Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser's warnings that the mass spectator event would defy health officials' guidance during the pandemic.
Just steps from where Mr Trump spoke, peaceful protesters marched down blocked-off streets around the White House, Black Lives Matter Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial.
They were confronted by counter-protesters chanting "USA! USA!", but there were no reports of violence.
Mr Trump's remarks doubled down on his Mount Rushmore speech on Friday, where he accused "angry mobs" of trying to erase history and painted himself as a bulwark against left-wing extremism.
His rival in the presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden, said in a letter to donors: "We have a chance now to give the marginalised, the demonised, the isolated, the oppressed, a full share of the American dream." - AFP, REUTERS