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Global virus cases top 19M as Europe tightens curbs

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by Kit Holden with AFP Bureaus

Coronavirus cases worldwide passed 19 million Thursday, as European nations imposed new travel restrictions and containment measures with fears growing over a second wave of infections.

The global figure, compiled by AFP from official sources at 2300 GMT, was driven by surges in Latin America and India — and a new milestone in Africa as the continent hit one million cases.

Global deaths from the pandemic have topped 700,000, and Europe remains the hardest-hit region worldwide with more than 200,000 fatalities since the virus first emerged in China late last year.

More than half of Africa’s cases are in South Africa, which has the fifth highest number of infections in the world, after the US, Brazil, India and Russia.

Nevertheless the African continent remains one of the least affected, according to the official figures, with only Oceania registering fewer COVID-19 cases.

As governments across the globe struggle to salvage economies ravaged by months of lockdown, many have been forced to look at new measures to curb outbreaks of COVID-19 since they lifted initial containment orders.

In Australia, the second-largest city Melbourne entered the country’s toughest lockdown yet on Thursday, closing non-essential businesses and requiring hundreds of thousands more people to stay home.

The pandemic has killed at least 712,315 people worldwide with the United States recording the most deaths with almost 160,000, followed by Brazil with nearly 100,000. Globally, 40 percent of all cases have been recorded in the two countries.

Germany is the latest to introduce mandatory tests for travellers returning from designated risk zones, starting on Saturday, as fears grow over rising case numbers blamed on summer holidays and local outbreaks.

Germany’s list of “risk zones” currently includes most non-EU countries, as well as certain provinces in Belgium and Spain.

Neighbouring Austria on Thursday announced it would issue a travel warning for mainland Spain, becoming the latest country to do so amid a rise in new coronavirus cases in the fellow EU member.

Finland also introduced new controls on arrivals from some EU countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Andorra, putting a stop to tourists arriving from there and imposing a 14-day quarantine on other returnees.

“The situation is extremely delicate,” the health ministry’s strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki said, adding that “some sort of second stage has begun.”

“Whether we can expect a smaller wave or a larger wave depends on how we respond.”

Britain has reimposed quarantine for travelers from Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas.

Norway announced Thursday that France would be considered a red zone due to the resurgence of coronavirus cases there, meaning all travellers arriving from France face a mandatory ten-day quarantine.

Switzerland, Monaco and the Czech Republic were also hit with similar restrictions, as well as two Swedish regions, the Norwegian foreign affairs ministry said.

“The infectious situation can change quickly, as can the restrictions,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said.

The United States bucked the trend despite its own soaring death toll, lifting a blanket warning against all foreign travel.

“Health and safety conditions (are) improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others,” the State Department said in a statement.

– Business struggles –

Many nations are seeing new outbreaks, forcing local or citywide lockdowns and other quarantine measures.

Poland will re-impose compulsory face masks in all public spaces in nine districts amid a new high in infections.

The restrictions will come into force from Saturday and will also affect sports and cultural events in those areas, mainly in the south and east.

Greece’s government on Wednesday announced a “wake-up week” on COVID-19, tightening restrictions after the steady rise in mostly domestic infections.

Officials have blamed the increase on overcrowding in clubs and social events.

The new virus outbreaks are forcing officials into an uncomfortable trade-off between public health and the need to bring economies back to life.

German airline Lufthansa on Thursday became the latest to reveal the fallout from the pandemic, announcing forced layoffs and a 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) loss in the second quarter.

Announcing its worst quarter in the company’s history, Lufthansa said in the three months to June its passenger numbers had collapsed by 96 percent compared to last year.

Agence France-Presse

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