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Coronavirus surge casts pall over US Independence Day

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Washington (AFP)

Beaches are closed, parades and fireworks displays cancelled and family reunions put on hold as the coronavirus pandemic casts a grim pall over US Independence Day celebrations.

With new COVID-19 cases surging to more than 40,000 a day and the virus death toll topping 127,000, this July 4th weekend is shaping up to be like none in recent memory.

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, instead of hosting a professional baseball game, has been turned into a COVID-19 testing site.

Many beaches in Florida and California, normally packed with sun-seeking vacationers, have been shut down after the coastal states experienced an alarming surge in virus cases.

Scores of towns and cities across the United States have dropped their traditional parades and fireworks displays to avoid bringing together the crowds which spread the virus.

With airline travel considered a risky proposition by many, far fewer families are getting together for the reunions and cookouts that traditionally mark the holiday.

Not everything has been cancelled, however, on this 244th anniversary of the July 4, 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence.

President Donald Trump, who is facing a tough re-election battle in November and is eager to portray a semblance of normalcy, plans to travel to South Dakota on Friday for a fireworks display at the Mount Rushmore monument to four of his predecessors.

The White House said Trump will also host a "Salute to America" event in Washington on Saturday featuring "music, military demonstrations, and flyovers" and a "spectacular fireworks display over the National Mall."

Military flyovers will also be held in the skies of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, the Pentagon said.

- 'Wish the pandemic away' -

The presidential campaign of Trump's November opponent, Democrat Joe Biden, accused the White House of seeking to "wish this pandemic away."

"The situation is getting worse and that is because throughout this pandemic, the current administration has failed to listen to the experts and put forth a cohesive, national strategy to get COVID-19 under control," Biden's communications director Kate Bedingfield said.

In Florida, one of the worst-hit states, health officials reported 6,563 new virus cases on Wednesday, slightly more than the previous two days and bringing the total in the Sunshine State to nearly 160,000.

South Florida counties cancelled their July 4 fireworks displays and Miami Beach made it mandatory to wear a mask in public, threatening violators with a fine of $50.

"Surge teams" have been going door-to-door in some parts of Florida to educate residents about the virus and hand out masks and sanitizer.

In California, which has seen a surge in cases like Florida and Texas, Governor Gavin Newsom was expected to announce new restrictions at a press conference later in the day.

In New York City, where COVID-19 cases have been on the decline, the mayor hit the pause button on reopening the economy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that Florida, Texas and California were "slipping backwards," and he said he was postponing the planned reopening of indoor dining next week.

"We particularly see problems revolving around people going back to bars and restaurants indoors," de Blasio said.

"We cannot go ahead at this point of time with indoor dining in New York City," he said. "A week ago I was hopeful we could."

New York state was previously the epicenter of the US outbreak, but the spread has largely been brought under control, with officials crediting a lengthy shutdown, strict social distancing guidelines and the mandatory wearing of masks.

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