PARIS, France (AFP) — More than 500,000 new coronavirus cases were reported worldwide on Tuesday in a new record, according to a tally from health authorities compiled by AFP.
In total, 516,898 new infections and 7,723 deaths were announced, according to the tally compiled on Wednesday.
This spike in worldwide cases can only partially be explained by an increase in testing since the first wave of the epidemic in March and April.
Europe has once again become the new epicenter of the disease which is spreading rapidly on the continent. Over the past seven days, there has been an average of more than 220,000 new daily infections, a 44 percent rise from the previous week.
The region is nearing a daily average of 2,000 deaths just as governments rush to impose infection-control measures to try and contain this second wave.
During the first peak of the pandemic in April, more than 4,000 daily deaths were reported.
The United States is also facing a rise in cases.
For the first time, it registered more than 500,000 infections over the past seven days, compared to 370,000 the previous week.
Among the 500,000 cases recorded globally Tuesday, more than half were registered in the 10 worst-hit countries in the world: the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, the United Kingdom and Mexico.
The deepening gloom across Europe and other parts of the world contrasted with the jubilation in Australia’s second city of Melbourne where champagne corks popped to celebrate the end of a months-long lockdown.
The pandemic has unleashed devastation across the global economy since emerging in China at the end of 2019. And in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, countries are being forced to reimpose widely unpopular COVID-19 restrictions.
‘Unpopular’ French measures
French President Emmanuel Macron was set to address the nation on Wednesday evening to present new measures that a government official said were likely to be “unpopular,” as doctors warn that many hospitals are days away from being overrun.
French media reported that Macron had become convinced of the need for a nationwide four-week lockdown.
Other options said to be considered included extending curfew hours already imposed on 46 million people, possibly with a full lockdown at weekends, or targeted stay-at-home orders for hardest-hit regions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also expected to push for drastic new curbs in crisis talks with regional leaders Wednesday.
The proposed restrictions to come in force from November 4 to the end of the month would limit contact outdoors to people from two households, according to a draft document seen by AFP.
Schools, daycare centers and shops will remain open, but bars, cafes, restaurants would shut.
Petrol bombs and stones
In Belgium, which has the most cases per capita in the world, the number of coronavirus hospital admissions all but matched the level in the first wave in the spring, public health institute showed.
The government will meet again on Friday, and Prime Minister Alexander de Croo could announce more stringent measures.
Medics in one hospital in Belgium are so overstretched that some staff who are themselves infected with COVID-19 are continuing to treat patients.
But in many countries, the new restrictions are likely to test the resolve and patience of weary populations.
Anger has already boiled over in Spain and Italy, where thousands have protested in recent days against anti-coronavirus curbs.
Some of the rallies have turned violent, particularly in Milan and Turin on Monday night when angry youths threw petrol bombs and stones at police cars and smashed up shop fronts.
‘A big day for us’
But there was exhilaration and relief Down Under on Wednesday as Melbourne’s five million people were able to return to shops and restaurants after months at home.
“We’ve really been awaiting this day for very long,” department store manager Magda Combrinck said. “It’s a big day for us.”
It was, however, far from a return to business as usual. Shopper Lesley Kind, 71, said many smaller outlets in Melbourne’s city center had yet to reopen or appeared permanently closed.
Across the world, the coronavirus has infected more than 44 million people, with close to 1.2 million deaths.
After the US, India is the most infected nation on the planet, with nearly eight million cases.
After imposing a strict lockdown in March, it has loosened restrictions to revive its battered economy.
On Wednesday, millions of Indians turned out to vote in state polls in Bihar — the world’s biggest election since the coronavirus emerged, with 70 million eligible voters.
Booths were packed and many ignored government advice on wearing masks and social distancing.
“I am a little afraid because corona is not a small disease,” said Nidhi Kumari, a 21-year-old student.
As the race to find a treatment or cure gathered pace, pharma giant Pfizer voiced measured optimism Tuesday about the prospect of a vaccine becoming available this year.
For its part, the European Union said it had earmarked 100 million euros for quicker tests for the virus.
Drugmakers Sanofi and GSK also said Wednesday they would set aside 200 million doses of a future coronavirus vaccine for a global initiative to ensure equitable distribution, including in poor countries.