Virus curbs tightened over fears of a second wave


Spain and Germany were among the countries tightening restrictions on Tuesday in a bid to cool coronavirus hotspots that have sparked fears of a second wave.

The World Health Organization warned that the virus did not appear to be affected by seasonality, as the global death toll from the pandemic passed 654,000 Tuesday — nearly a third of the dead in Europe, according to an AFP tally.

More than 100,000 deaths have been recorded since July 9 and the global toll has doubled in just over two months.

Madrid insisted that Spain was still a safe destination for tourists despite tackling 361 active outbreaks and more than 4,000 new cases, and updating its mask rules to make them obligatory at all times in public.

Several countries have nonetheless imposed quarantines on people returning from Spain, including its biggest tourist market, Britain.

Spanish tourism is hardly alone in feeling the devastating impact of the pandemic.

The UN’s World Tourism Organization said the sector lost $320 billion in revenue globally during the first five months of 2020, threatening millions of livelihoods.

This is “more than three times the loss during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009”, the Madrid-based body said in a statement.

Germany, which has registered an average of 557 new cases a day over the past week, also tweaked its mask rules, saying they must be worn outdoors wherever social distancing was not possible.

“We must prevent that the virus once again spreads rapidly and uncontrollably,” its disease control agency said Tuesday.

Iran suffered its worst day yet of the pandemic, reporting 235 new deaths on Tuesday, a record toll for a single day in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

“The situation is worrying,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said, with Tehran, the most populous province, hitting the highest category on the country’s coronavirus risk scale.

Officials have made masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and allowed Tehran and other hard-hit provinces to reimpose the restrictions progressively lifted since April to reopen Iran’s sanctions-hit economy.

Lebanon also raised fears for its crisis-hit health sector after recording 175 cases on Saturday, its highest daily tally.

On Tuesday, it announced a full lockdown over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha from July 30 until August 3, and limits on bar and restaurant capacity.

– Trump retweets ‘misinformation’ –

Twitter removed a video retweeted by President Donald Trump in which doctors made allegedly false claims about the pandemic, saying it was in violation of its “COVID-19 misinformation policy”.

Earlier, Facebook had also withdrawn the video, which claimed masks and lockdowns were not necessary to counter the pandemic.

In China, officials moved to head off the possibility of a second wave after a new cluster in the northwest port city of Dalian spread to other provinces.

Health authorities said the Dalian cluster had now spread to nine cities in five regions across the country, including as far away as the southeast coastal province of Fujian.

Beijing has tightened measures in the affected region, introducing mass testing in Dalian and heightened scrutiny of travellers arriving in the city.

China had largely brought the virus under control since it first emerged in the country late last year, through a series of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions.

But small outbreaks have since raised concerns, with China reporting 68 new infections on Tuesday — the highest daily number since April.

China Southern on Tuesday became the latest Chinese airline to offer ultra-cheap, all-you-can-fly deals aimed at reigniting air travel following lockdowns.

It came as the International Air Transport Association warned that global air traffic will not return to levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic until at least 2024.

– Not a seasonal virus: WHO –

The summer season in Europe continues to pose problems for people wanting to take holidays abroad.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.”

Greece said it would reopen six of its ports, including Piraeus in Athens, to cruise ships at the weekend. But responding to a recent rise in infections, it made masks compulsory again in shops and public services.

“Season does not seem to be affecting the transmission of this virus,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters.

It is summer in the United States, which with nearly 148,000 deaths and close to 4.3 million cases is the hardest-hit country.

It is winter in the second most affected country Brazil, which has recorded more than 87,000 deaths.

“What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus… and even though it is a respiratory virus and even though respiratory viruses in the past did tend to do these different seasonal waves, this one is behaving differently,” Harris said.


PHOTO> Spain is battling to save its summer tourism season (AFP Photo/JAIME REINA)

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