Serbia eyes restrictions; virus spreads in US, Brazil, India
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia mulled how to curb a surge in coronavirus infections on Thursday following two nights of clashes involving anti-lockdown demonstrators, while the virus showed no sign of slowing in the countries with the highest caseloads — the United States, India and Brazil.
Those three nations are accounting for more than 60% of new cases, according to recent tallies from Johns Hopkins University. India on Thursday reported 25,000 new infections; the United States on Wednesday reported nearly 59,000, just short of the record 60,000 set a day earlier, as President Donald Trump insisted that schools reopen in the fall; and Brazil reported nearly 45,000 new cases.
Much of Europe appears to have put the worst of the crisis behind it, at least for now. But Serbia has emerged as a new focus of concern — and of unrest. On Thursday, the country's crisis team was expected to ban gatherings in the capital, Belgrade, and limit the operations of cafes and night clubs following a spike in infections that officials say threatens the health system.
It wasn't clear whether officials would reintroduce a weekend curfew, the initial announcement of which triggered violent protests in Belgrade and three other cities. Critics accuse President Aleksandar Vucic of letting the crisis spin out of control by lifting tight lockdown measures in order to hold an election on June 21 that tightened his grip on power.
Rock-throwing demonstrators on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings fought hours-long running battles with special police forces who used tear gas to disperse them. Vucic said in an Instagram post on Thursday that the state will curb unrest.
Flare-ups in infections are causing concern in several places around the world, and in some cases are leading to the reintroduction of tough restrictions.
In Australia, which had initial success containing the outbreak, authorities on Thursday reported 179 new cases, most of them in the city of Melbourne, where authorities are battling a resurgence and have imposed a new six-week lockdown.
Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said six new cases were from a Melbourne high school which has become the state’s largest known cluster, with 113 people infected. More than 2,000 students and hundreds of staff are in quarantine.
Tokyo confirmed more than 220 new cases Thursday, exceeding its record daily increase from mid-April and prompting concerns of widening of the infections. Tokyo’s more than 7,000 cases are about one-third of Japan's total.
“It’s a wake-up call,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters. “We need to use extra caution against the further spread of the infections.”
Experts on Tokyo’s virus task force said the majority of recent cases were linked to night clubs but rising infections from households, workplaces and parties raised concerns the virus is spreading in the wider community.
Hong Kong moved to tighten social-distancing measures after it reported 42 new infections on Thursday. Rules for restaurants, bars and fitness centers will be tightened for two weeks starting Saturday.
In India, research by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai shows that the reproduction rate of the virus ticked up in the first week of July to about 1.2 after it had steadily fallen from a peak of 1.8 in March. The rate needs to be below one for new cases to start falling.
In the U.S., the number of confirmed cases has passed 3 million — meaning nearly one in every 100 people has been confirmed as infected — and the number of deaths is more than 132,000.
Trump remains determined to reopen America’s schools despite worries about the virus, and on Wednesday threatened to hold back federal money if school districts don't bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials’ safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive.
Despite Trump’s pressure, New York City announced that most of its students would return to classrooms only two or three days a week and would learn online in between.
A growing chorus of public health experts is urging U.S. officials to reconsider how they are reopening the broader economy, and to prioritize schools. That effort that will likely require closing some other establishments like bars and gyms to help curb the virus spread and give children the best shot at returning to classrooms.
“We need to think about what our priorities are as a society, and some other things may just have to wait,” said Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University. “I think there are hard choices having to be made by decision-makers.”
In Indonesia, the resort island of Bali reopened Thursday after a three-month virus lockdown, allowing local people and stranded foreign tourists to resume public activities before foreign arrivals resume in September.
Beaches and streets on the island emptied in early April except for special patrols to ensure virus-containment protocols were observed. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and shut down shops, restaurants and many other places.
The governor said the island will gradually reopen to locals and stranded foreigners. Indonesians from other parts of the country will be allowed to visit starting July 31 and new foreign arrivals from Sept. 11.
The move comes as infections continue to surge in Indonesia.
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.