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U.S. coronavirus death toll surpasses 120,000 as China, South Korea work to contain new outbreaks

The coronavirus has infected nearly 8.8 million people as of Sunday and killed more than 464,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Image: Coronavirus testing
A pharmacy technician shows how COVID-19 tests are processed in a testing area at St. Vincent de Paul medical clinic in Phoenix, Arizona last week.Ross D. Franklin / AP

More than 120,000 people have now died from coronavirus in the United States, according to an NBC News tally, which shows that over 2.2 million people have been infected across the country.

The grim figure was reached hours before President Donald Trump told a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma that he wanted to "slow the testing down," on Saturday. The White House later said he was joking.

The head of the World Health Organization also warned on Friday that the virus’s global spread is accelerating after a daily high of 150,000 new cases was reported last week.

Worldwide, almost 8.8 million people have been infected with the respiratory illness as of Sunday and it has killed more than 464,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The true number is thought to be much higher as many cases go untested.

In China, officials said Sunday that 2.3 million people have so far been tested in the country’s capital, in an effort to contain a significant outbreak in Beijing after an easing of lockdown restrictions.

A nurse wearing a protective suit and mask takes a nucleic acid test for COVID-19 from a person who either visited or lives near the Xinfadi Market at a testing facility last week in Beijing, China.Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

Medical aid teams from Wuhan — where the virus originated late last year — arrived in Beijing late on Saturday in order to help carry out more testing, Chinese state media reported.

There had been no new domestic cases in the city for 56 consecutive days, but since June 11, the capital has reported 227 new cases.

Nearby South Korea also continues to struggle to contain an outbreak resurgence that has seen some of the country’s hard-won pandemic gains erased since social distancing rules were eased in April.

South Korean health authorities on Sunday warned the nation of a new “summer wave” if the public fails to wear masks and keep social distance.

Health officials said 24 of the new 48 cases on Sunday were in the Seoul region, which has been the center of the country’s latest outbreak since late May. Ten of the new cases, however, are from the central city of Daejeon, which indicates the virus is beginning to spread more broadly again.

A quarantine worker sprays disinfectants at night spots of Itaewon neighborhood, following the coronavirus outbreak in Seoul, South Korea in May.Yonhap / Reuters

Elsewhere, South Africa continued to loosen lockdown measures under economic pressure, despite reporting nearly 4,000 more COVID-19 cases on Saturday. The country has reported more than 92,000 cases as of Sunday, according to the Africa Center for Disease Control, about 30 percent of the virus cases on the African continent.

The New Development Bank approved a $1 billion COVID-19 emergency loan on Saturday to South Africa to help reduce the significant socio-economic impacts from pandemic.

Meanwhile, badly-hit Brazil on Saturday had total number of cases had rise by more than 50,000 from the previous day, the health ministry said. President Jair Bolsonaro has been downplaying the risks of the virus despite his country surpassing 1 million cases, with nearly 50,000 fatalities.

As virus case numbers are rising in the Americas and across Africa, European governments continue to ease lockdown restrictions as infections slow.

As of Sunday, 47 million Spaniards will be able to freely move around the entire country for the first time as the national state of emergency ended after three months. The lockdown measures have been rolled back gradually over recent weeks.

In nearby Italy — which for a time this spring had the most cases and deaths in the world — Pope Francis welcomed doctors and nurses from the hard-hit Lombardy region to the Vatican on Saturday to thank them for their work and sacrifice.

Francis said Lombardy’s medics “gave witness to God’s proximity to those who suffer” and became literal “angels” helping the sick recover.

In the U.K. — which on Friday lowered its COVID-19 alert level to "epidemic" from "exponential" — the government said it would announce next week whether it will ease social distancing rules that say people should remain six feet apart.

Many areas of Europe, however, are dealing with new localized spikes with some of the largest centered around meat-processing plants. German officials said Saturday that the number of workers infected at a slaughterhouse in the northwest of the country had risen above 1,000.

Stella Kim and Associated Press contributed.