Serbia opens field hospital; S Africa mulls tougher lockdown
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Troops in Serbia set up an emergency 500-bed field hospital Monday as the Balkan nation battled a surge in coronavirus infections that underscored the risks of swiftly easing lockdowns. South Africa debated a return to tougher lockdown even as thousands of students in sixth and 11th grades returned to school after nearly four months locked out of classrooms.
South African pupils from seventh and 12th grades returned to classes last month, but the government has postponed further school re-openings amid a quickening rise in confirmed infections. South Africa had 196,750 COVID-19 confirmed cases as of Monday, more than 40% of all the cases reported by Africa’s 54 countries. South Africa has recorded 3,199 deaths.
The makeshift hospital in a sports hall in Belgrade is a “precautionary measure” as hospitals in the Serbian capital are reaching their capacity because of the coronavirus outbreak, said Goran Vesic, the city's deputy mayor. Serbian infections have returned to levels last seen at the peak of the pandemic in March and April.
Serbia's rising infections provide a chilling insight into how the virus, while retreating in much of Europe, can roar back if lockdowns are lifted too swiftly.
The country went from having one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns to a near-complete reopening at the beginning of May. Soccer and tennis matches were played in packed stands, resulting in several players testing positive. Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic and other players also caught the virus following an event he organized in Serbia and the Croatian Adriatic resort of Zadar.
Serbia’s defense minister, Aleksandar Vulin, himself reported to be infected with the coronavirus but now apparently recovered, visited another 110-bed field hospital the military constructed in the southern town of Novi Pazar town, site of the latest Serbian virus cluster.
Greece moved to contain the burgeoning threat by banning Serbs from crossing its only open land border from Monday morning. The new restrictions caused a seven-kilometer (four-mile) traffic jam at the Promahonas border crossing with Bulgaria. Authorities eventually allowed about 105 cars carrying Serbs into Greece that had been trapped overnight.
Vasilios Barliano, a 42-year-old Romanian heading to Halkidiki on vacation with his wife and child, said he had waited for around one hour to enter, but had heard that some of his compatriots had waited for four hours.
“It’s definitely a different summer this year compared to last year when we came," he said.
Australia also was battling to stop infections spreading between states. The border between Victoria and the country's most populous state, New South Wales, was to close Tuesday after Victoria state capital Melbourne recorded two deaths and its highest-ever daily increase in infections on Monday.
Spain also was taking action to rein in regional spikes, two weeks after the hard-hit country ended a state of emergency in force since mid-March. Over 28,000 people are confirmed to have died from the virus in Spain.
Restrictions were in force Monday affecting some 70,000 residents in the northwestern county of A Mariña, on the northern Atlantic coast, and over 200,000 in northeastern Catalonia’s Segrià county around Lleida.
The restrictions were coming into force at the start of Europe's summer holiday season that usually sees millions of people crisscrossing the continent in search of sun, sand and cultural highlights.
Paris was one city rolling out the welcome mat, reopening the world-renowned Louvre Museum, home to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The Eiffel Tower reopened June 25. Face masks were a must and visitor numbers were limited, with reservations required.
Zino Vandenbeaghen traveled from Belgium to enjoy the unusual space at both the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. “It’s super,” he said. “The ideal moment to visit.”
Thrill-seeking tourists and locals in Spain, however, were out of luck. The San Fermin festival that features the adrenaline-charged running of the bulls in Pamplona was scheduled to open Monday, but has been canceled due to fears the packed streets could become a virus-spreading event.
About 400 people, wearing white clothes, traditional red scarves and less traditional red face masks, gathered at noon at a central Pamplona square where in normal times more than 12,000 would witness the launch of a rocket known as “Chupinazo” to open the nine-day festival, bathing each other with red wine and champagne.
Joaquín Beloki, a 33-year-old resident, said there could still be room for toasting “for the health of all those who have not contracted the coronavirus.”
India withdrew a plan to reopen its famed Taj Mahal monument after new cases were detected in the area. The decision came just before India overtook Russia to become the third worst-affected nation by the coronavirus after the country reported 24,248 new cases Monday to bring its confirmed tally to 697,413 cases, including 19,693 deaths. Russia has 680,283 cases.
Also in Spain, health experts said that only five in every 100 residents have been exposed to the new coronavirus according to the final results of a nationwide survey on the prevalence of antibodies released Monday. Marina Pollán, director of the National Epidemiological Center, said the results confirm that Spain is far from having developed the “herd immunity” that scientists had hoped for as a shield against future spread of the virus.
There was better news for Britons planning a Greek vacation getaway. Greece’s government announced that direct flights from the United Kingdom to all airports in Greece can resume as of July 15. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the decision was taken “in cooperation with the British government and after the recommendation of experts.” Greece had previously banned all flights from Britain due to the extent of the coronavirus spread there.
Meanwhile, the British government threw a 1.57 billion-pound ($1.96 billion) lifeline to museums, galleries, theaters, movie theaters, heritage sites and music venues hit by coronavirus lockdowns.
“When we heard last night, we slept for the first time since March,” said Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of London’s Young Vic theater.
Mike Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. AP reporters from across the globe contributed to this report.