The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 900,000 since the respiratory disease first appeared in China last year, according to an AFP tally.

As the fatalities climbed, US President Donald Trump admitted he had tried to minimise the seriousness of the Covid-19 threat at the start of the pandemic, in audio recordings released yesterday from interviews with veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Mr Woodward on 19 March, according to a CNN preview of the book "Rage", due to be published this month.

"I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic," he said in the recorded conversation with Woodward.

There have been more than 27.7 million confirmed virus cases worldwide, according to an AFP count based on official statistics, with the worst-hit region Latin America and the Caribbean, followed by Europe.

The country with the most coronavirus deaths is the United States with over 190,000 fatalities, followed by Brazil.


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Coronavirus outbreak hits 19 at sumo stable in Japan

A coronavirus outbreak at a sumo stable in Tokyo has infected 19 people, the governing body said, adding that a tournament will go ahead this week as planned.

The Japan Sumo Association said one wrestler and 18 trainees at the Tamanoi stable have tested positive for the virus, with 12 of those infected sent to hospital.

The cases follow the death in May of a 28-year-old sumo after contracting coronavirus, the sport's first Covid-19 fatality.

They were discovered after a trainee became sick last week and tested positive, prompting the stable to test everyone who had been in contact with him, the association said.

The entire stable will be barred from the September basho, which starts on Sunday in Tokyo.

Sumo cancelled its May basho over the coronavirus but from the July tournament, it allowed limited numbers of fans inside a Tokyo arena.

The cluster came to light as Japan eases restrictions with signs that its second wave of coronavirus infections may be over.

Tokyo is expected to lower its warning level as early as Friday, and there has been discussion about loosening restrictions on attendance at sports events.

Other professional sports including baseball and football have also allowed limited numbers of spectators at stadiums.

Brazil could launch Chinese Covid-19 vaccine this year - Governor

Clinical trials in Brazil of a Chinese-made vaccine against Covid-19 have shown "extremely positive" results, and a widespread vaccination campaign could begin as early as December, the governor of Sao Paulo state said.

Sao Paulo, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in hard-hit Brazil, is one of six states helping to test the so-called CoronaVac vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech.

The vaccine produced an immune response in 98 percent of recipients over 60 years old, with no adverse side-effects reported so far, said Governor Joao Doria.

"The results have been extremely positive," he told a news conference.

"We will soon be able to immunize Brazilians in Sao Paulo and across the country with the CoronaVac vaccine.... The projected delivery date is in December this year."

Sinovac has partnered with a Brazilian public health research centre, the Butantan Institute, to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials of the vaccine - the last step before regulatory approval.

The deal gives the institute the right to produce 120 million doses of the vaccine, according to officials.

CoronaVac has gotten caught up in a political battle in Brazil, however.

President Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration has tense relations with China, has criticized the vaccine, and lashed out at Mr Doria, a leading opponent, for supposedly backing it.

The far-right president has instead allocated 1.9 billion reals ($360 million) to purchase another vaccine candidate, developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

Trials of that vaccine, which is also being tested partly in Brazil, were suspended Tuesday after a volunteer recipient developed an unexplained illness - a move the company described as "routine."

Brazil has the second-highest death toll in the pandemic after the United States, with more than 127,000 people killed and 4.1 million infections.