War on COVID

July 14, 2020
Covid test

LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2020 (AFP) - California drastically rolled back its reopening plans Monday as coronavirus cases surged across dozens of US states and the World Health Organization warned that too many nations are mismanaging their pandemic response.

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all indoor restaurants, bars and movie theaters to close again across California — by far America’s richest and most populous state, with a larger economy than all but four countries.

Churches as well as gyms, shopping malls, hair salons and non-essential offices must also shut indoor operations in half of the Golden State’s worst-hit and most densely populated counties, including Los Angeles.

“We’re moving back into a modification mode of our original ‘stay-at-home’ order,” said Newsom, whose state was the first to close down in March, but began easing restrictions in May.

The move came as California reported 8,358 new daily coronavirus cases, bringing its total to nearly 330,000 including more than 7,000 deaths.

Like the governors of Texas, Arizona, and Florida — which were also hit hard in the virus’ second spike — California initially declined to issue a statewide mask order and allowed counties to reopen indoor dining, gyms, and bars.

With new infections spreading like wildfire globally, many countries were also reimposing restrictions Monday, locking down towns and cities and reintroducing measures to halt the spread of the sickness.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that too many countries were “headed in the wrong direction” with governments giving out mixed messages that were undermining trust.

“There will be no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future,” he said, warning that without governments adopting a comprehensive strategy, the situation would get “worse and worse and worse.”

Since the start of July, nearly 2.5 million new infections have been registered across the globe, with the number of cases doubling over the past six weeks, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Latin America on Monday recorded the world’s second-highest death toll, declaring a total of 144,758 deaths to pass the 144,023 recorded in the United States and Canada.

It now stands second only to Europe, where 202,505 people have died.

In Spain, regional officials were in a standoff with courts after a judge suspended a lockdown just hours after it was imposed on 160,000 people in the Catalonia city of Lerida following a sharp rise in cases.

Despite calls to respect the closure, many people were on the streets by mid-afternoon, with shops and bars still open, an AFP correspondent said.

It was the first such order given since Spain’s lockdown ended on June 21.

Reimposing lockdowns

Across the globe, the pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people, killed more than 566,000 and triggered massive economic damage in the seven months since it was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

South Africa reimposed a nationwide curfew to prevent a “coronavirus storm” from ravaging the continent’s hardest-hit nation, where new infections have topped 12,000 a day.

Morocco followed suit on Monday, locking down Tangiers, with public transport suspended, cafes and public spaces closed and movement restricted in the northern port city of a million inhabitants.

With eyes keenly focused on the economic fallout, the IMF warned Monday that the Middle East and North Africa region was facing its worst downturn in 50 years, citing the “twin shock” of the virus and low oil prices.

Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, counted more than 200 new deaths in 24 hours, pushing its toll over 13,000.

In Asia, the Philippines imposed a two-week lockdown on 250,000 people in the capital Manila as new infections soared, and Hong Kong stepped up precautions to combat a sudden spike in infections.

Restaurants there can only serve takeaway food after 6 pm, gyms, nightclubs, karaoke bars and beauty salons were shuttered and public gatherings were restricted to four people.

The latest high-profile personality to test positive for COVID-19 was India’s Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai.

And two US Marine bases on Japan’s Okinawa island have been locked down after a spike in cases with dozens infected and local officials expressing “serious doubts” about the US military’s containment efforts.

‘Petri dish’

At the weekend, US President Donald Trump wore a face mask in public for the first time, in the world’s worst-hit country where some 135,000 people have died.

California’s announcement came as education officials in Los Angeles and San Diego said the cities’ schools would remain closed when classes resume with online-only lessons next month.

“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a Petri dish,” said Austin Beutner, schools superintendent for Los Angeles — the nation’s second-largest district with some 600,000 students.

The neighboring state of Oregon banned indoor gatherings of more than 10 people — except at places of worship and businesses — and mandated outdoor face coverings where social distancing is not possible.

And virus epicenter Florida saw 12,624 new cases — the second highest daily count recorded by any state, after its own record of 15,300 new COVID-19 cases a day earlier.

Across the border, Mexico became the country with the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world, climbing to a total of 35,006 and surpassing Italy.

More than 80 millionaires — including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield and screenwriter Richard Curtis — urged governments around the world to hike taxes on the super-wealthy to help fund the recovery.

Meanwhile, a French expert warned that a fully effective vaccine was highly unlikely by 2021.

And in what may prove a blow to those who have recovered, researchers at Kings College London said COVID-19 survivors could lose their immunity, leaving them vulnerable to reinfection within months.