Countries tighten measures as global virus death toll tops 700,000

·4 min read
An international airline ground staff wearing protective gear works at the airport in Manila on August 4, 2020.
An international airline ground staff wearing protective gear works at the airport in Manila on August 4, 2020.

France and the Netherlands imposed stricter mask-wearing rules Wednesday amid signs that the coronavirus pandemic is flaring up again across the globe, with the worldwide death toll exceeding 700,000.

Toulouse in southwest France announced that the wearing of face masks is compulsory in particularly busy streets and squares from Wednesday.

And Paris and other cities are expected to follow suit soon, authorities said.

People already have to wear them inside most private businesses and all public buildings in France.

A scientific committee advising the French government warned that the country could lose control of its spread "at any time."

In the Netherlands, similar mask-wearing measures come into force in Rotterdam and in some busy neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, including its famous red-light district.

And Ireland has postponed the reopening of pubs and other nightspots on the advice of scientists, concerned about rising infections.

A total of 700,489 deaths have been recorded so far around the world, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources, double the number since May 26, with 100,000 registered in just under three weeks.

Europe remains the hardest hit region with 211,365 fatalities.


- Philippines back in lockdown -

In the Philippines, millions of people have been ordered to stay home in a bid to contain the rising rate of infections, and relieve pressure on overwhelmed hospitals.

More than 27 million people on the main island of Luzon, including the capital Manila, went back into a partial lockdown.

People have been told to stay home unless going out to buy essential goods, for exercise or for work, after the number of recorded infections surged past 100,000.

But with only 24 hours' notice of the shutdown, many people were stranded in Manila, unable to get back to their hometowns after public transport and domestic flights were halted.

Far from slowing down, the latest figures show that the rate of infection is accelerating across the globe.

Brazil is driving a surge in Latin America and the Caribbean, where infections passed five million on Monday.

South America's largest country has recorded more than 2.75 million cases, and nearly 96,000 deaths, nearly half the region's 203,800 fatalities.

And in Afghanistan, the health ministry said Wednesday that nearly a third of the population -- or 10 million people -- has been infected with the coronavirus.

The figure comes from a survey based on antibody tests on around 9,500 people across the country.

- US clinical trials -

In South Africa, the hardest-hit country in Africa, some 24,000 health workers have contracted the coronavirus and 181 have died since March, health minister Zweli Mkwize announced on Wednesday.

Unions have been raising concerns about safety in hospitals since the start of the pandemic, as well as the availability, quality and size of protective gear.

The number of infected health care workers translates to around five percent of South Africa's overall caseload, which has been rising rapidly in recent weeks.

The world's hope of ending the current cycle of outbreaks and lockdowns rests on finding a treatment.

The United States announced Tuesday it had begun late-stage clinical trials into a drug they hope will be an antibody against the coronavirus.

The Phase 3 trial will initially enroll some 300 volunteers around the world who have been hospitalised with mild to moderate COVID-19 with fewer than 13 days of symptoms.

Russia has said it aims to launch mass production of a vaccine in September and turn out "several million" doses per month by next year.

In response, the World Health Organization urged Russia to follow the established guidelines for producing safe and effective vaccines.

The agency's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries to focus on basic suppression measures, such as contact tracing, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask.

"There's no silver bullet at the moment -- and there might never be," he warned.

Despite rising infection numbers in Europe, some countries are pushing ahead with plans to reopen schools and finding ways to keep their battered tourism sectors functioning.


- Travel industry hit -

The travel sector continues to bear the brunt of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

British airline Virgin Atlantic, which has not flown since April because of coronavirus, has applied for bankruptcy protection in the United States as it seeks to tie up a rescue deal in the UK.

Separately, pandemic-struck Virgin Australia said it will close its budget subsidiary Tigerair Australia and lay off 3,000 staff as it prepares to relaunch under new owners.

And Copenhagen airport, Scandinavia's largest, said Wednesday that it may lay off a quarter of its staff as it is forced to confront the massive drop in passengers.