Cases have doubled in six weeks, says Tedros; Belgian city of Antwerp brings in night-time curfew; Hong Kong sees triple-digit rise for sixth straight day
The World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that the pandemic continues to accelerate, with the number of cases worldwide doubling in the past six weeks, nearly six months after it declared a “public health emergency of international concern”.
Fears are growing that more European countries will reintroduce restrictions, as Germany, France and Belgium introduced curfews, social distancing and quarantine measures.
Worldwide, there are 16.4m cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Thursday will mark six months since 30 January, when the WHO raised the alarm over the pandemic to the highest level.
Tedros said on Monday night: “This is the sixth time a global health emergency has been declared under the international health regulations, but it is easily the most severe,” saying that cases have roughly doubled in the past six weeks, as the pandemic “continues to accelerate”.
“When I declared a public health emergency of international concern on the 30th of January – the highest level of alarm under international law – there were less than 100 cases outside of China, and no deaths,” he said.
In Europe, countries trying to repair the economic damage caused by earlier lockdowns struggled to balance the financial need to support tourism during summer months with measures to guard against new flare-ups.
Spain’s tourism industry faced fresh misery after British travellers – and one major tour operator – cancelled flights there following London’s decision to reintroduce quarantine for travellers returning from the country.
Belgium tightened its social distancing measures to try to halt what one expert called a “worrying” surge in cases. From Wednesday, Belgians will be allowed to see five people at most outside their family circle, reducing the permitted “social bubble” from 15. The measures came after the country recorded 1,952 new cases in the past week, up more than 70% on the previous week.
The Belgian city of Antwerp announced a nighttime curfew on Monday, with bars and restaurants to close at 11pm and citizens obliged to get home by 11.30pm and stay there until 6am.
“Stay at home as much as possible,” said the city’s governor, Cathy Berx, urging outsiders to avoid travel to Antwerp unless it was essential. She urged young people to stay indoors: “Do not go out to party, do not endanger yourself and others.”
France ordered night-time curfews for beaches in the Brittany resort of Quiberon on the Atlantic coast, after a fast-spreading Covid-19 cluster emerged there last week.
Germany will make coronavirus tests mandatory for travellers returning from risk areas, the health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Monday. “We must prevent returning travellers from infecting others unnoticed and thus triggering new chains of infection,” Spahn wrote on Twitter.
In the Asia Pacific region meanwhile, Australia, Hong Kong and mainland China continued to battle a resurgence of the virus.
The Australian state of Victoria suspended non-urgent elective surgeries after it recorded six deaths and 384 new cases, about 150 fewer than were recorded in the record high numbers on Monday. The neighbouring state of new South Wales reported 14 new cases on Tuesday.
Hong Kong saw a triple-digit increase for the sixth day in a row, with 145 new cases, and mainland China confirmed its highest daily tally since April, with 68 new infections, of which two are in Beijing and 57 in Xinjiang. The cases reported on Tuesday mark the fourth day in a row of increases.
In other global developments:
- Vietnam suspended all flights to and from the city of Danang for 15 days due to the new outbreak in the city. On Monday, after 15 local cases were detected – the first in three months – Danang started evacuating 80,000 people, most of whom are local tourists.
- In the United States, White House officials began fraught negotiations with top Democrats on a coronavirus aid package, with the current one due to run out on Friday. Republicans want to slash the $600 weekly jobless benefit to $200, saying the federal sum is too generous on top of state benefits.
- President Donald Trump wore a mask and talked up the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year in the battleground state of North Carolina. During a visit to a Fujifilm plant in Morrisville, the president wore a mask publicly for a second time and expressed confidence in the country’s economic recovery.
- Also in the US, Amazon is under investigation in California for failing to protect its warehouse employees from coronavirus.