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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - COPENHAGEN: The World Health Organization Friday expressed concern over a coronavirus resurgence in Europe as Britain and Austria tightened restrictions and China stepped up testing.
Europe accounts for a fifth of the world’s more than 15 million cases and remains the hardest hit in terms of deaths, with 207,118 out of 633,711 worldwide, according to an AFP tally at 1100 GMT Friday.
The WHO’s European chapter pointed to rising cases on the continent over the past two weeks, stressing the need for tighter measures, if required.
A three-year-old girl died in Belgium, becoming the country’s youngest known coronavirus victim, in a further wake-up call for a continent which has only recently emerged from strict lockdowns in several countries.
With 335 new cases for 100,000 inhabitants in the last two weeks, Kyrgyzstan is the worst affected country in Europe. Others include Montenegro (207), Luxemburg (196), Bosnia (98) and Serbia (71).
“The recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases in some countries following the easing of physical distancing measures is certainly cause for concern,” a WHO-Europe spokeswoman told AFP.
“If the situation demands, reintroduction of stricter, targeted measures with the full engagement of communities may be needed,” she said.
Britain on Friday made it compulsory to wear a face covering in shopping centers, banks, takeaway outlets, sandwich shops and supermarkets, following the lead of Scotland.
Exceptions have been made, for example, for children under 11 or people with respiratory problems, but anyone refusing to cover their nose and mouth risks a fine of up to £100.
Austria also made face masks became mandatory again from Friday in supermarkets, food stores, post offices, bank branches and health care facilities in addition to public transport and pharmacies.
“It was a mistake to lift mandatory mask use so soon... As a precautionary measure (to prevent the virus’s spread) it is the lesser evil” compared to other measures, a shopper, Andreas Poschenreither, told AFP.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday met his top ministers to discuss virus contagion measures, as his prime minister Jean Castex was due to visit Paris’s main airport to check controls in place during the peak tourist season in the world’s most visited country.
Masks are now mandatory on public transport and in shops and enclosed spaces in France but there are fears that the summer holidays could see a spike in cases with people flocking to beaches and tourist spots.
However, the number of new cases across Europe has remained stable at around 20,000 daily since May 20 — more than two times lower than peak numbers at the start of April.
The United States, the hardest-hit country by the virus, recorded more than 144,305 total fatalities. It has seen a coronavirus surge, particularly in southern and western states.
US President Donald Trump has scrapped next month’s Republican convention in Florida ahead of the November 3 election, saying “the timing for this event is not right.”
Bolivia meanwhile postponed its general elections for a second time because of the pandemic, putting it off until October 18, while South Africa said it was closing public schools for a month from July 27.
There was bad news in China and India — the two world’s most populous nations — as new clusters emerged.
Chinese authorities said Friday they would introduce a wave of testing in the port city of Dalian, home to about six million people.
The Dalian health commission said the city had to “quickly enter wartime mode.” It announced strict new measures, including on-the-spot nucleic acid tests to detect the virus.
Kindergartens and nurseries have been closed, and some communities have been placed under lockdown, according to state-run newspaper Global Times.
India’s death toll overtook France’s on Friday with 30,601 fatalities and nearly 50,000 new cases overnight, official data showed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in late March, but it has been steadily eased to lessen the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.
State governments have brought in fresh restrictions as cases soar in Bangalore, India’s IT hub, and in several states.
UN projections have warned the virus could kill 1.67 million people in 30 low-income countries.
Virus restrictions have been bolstered in several countries this week, including Australia and Belgium as well as in Hong Kong and the Japanese capital Tokyo.
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