Serbia eyes restrictions; virus spreads in US, Brazil, India

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A doctor works at an COVID-19 isolation center in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. India has overtaken Russia to become the third worst-affected nation by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The European nation of Serbia mulled how to curb accelerating coronavirus infections following two nights of clashes involving anti-lockdown demonstrators, while the virus showed no sign of slowing Thursday in the countries with the highest caseloads — the United States, India and Brazil.

The three nations on separate continents are accounting for more than 60% of new confirmed cases, according to recent tallies from Johns Hopkins University. India on Thursday reported 25,000 new cases; the United States on Wednesday reported just short of the record 60,000 cases set a day earlier, and Brazil reported nearly 45,000.

Much of Europe appeared 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. The country’s crisis team was expected to reimpose a ban gatherings in the capital, Belgrade and to limit the cafe and night club operations following a spike in infections that officials say threatens the Serbian health system.

It wasn’t clear whether officials would reintroduce a weekend curfew, the initial announcement of which triggered violent protests in Belgrade and other cities. Critics accuse President Aleksandar Vucic of letting the crisis spin out of control by lifting an earlier lockdown to allow for an election that tightened his grip on power.

Rock-throwing demonstrators this week 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 government would control the unrest.

Flare-ups of new virus cases are causing concern in several parts of the world, and in some cases leading to the reintroduction of restrictions on public activity.

In France and Greece, officials warned that residents were too frequently ignoring safety guidance. The French government’s leading coronavirus adviser, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, lamented that “the French in general have abandoned protective measures.”

“Everyone must understand that we are at the mercy of a return (of the virus) in France,” Delfraissy said. “It suffices to have one super-spreader in a gathering and it will take off again.”

Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said authorities were “determined to protect the majority from the frivolous few.” He said the government may announce new restrictions, if needed, on Monday.

Pestas said authorities were focused on the rising number of cases in nearby Balkan countries and tourists who traveled to Greece over the land border with Bulgaria.

In Australia, which had initial success containing the outbreak, authorities on Thursday reported 179 new cases, most in 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.

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would be wise to prepare for the worst-case scenario as virus=related deaths passed 12,000 and confirmed cases climbed fast on that continent. A day after confirmed virus cases across Africa surpassed half a million, the total was over 522,000 and climbing. Testing levels are low, so the actual number of cases is unknown.

’We’ve crossed a critical number here,” Africa CDC chief John Nkengasong said of the half-million milestone. “Our pandemic is getting full speed.”

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 death toll in the pandemic is more than 132,000.

U.S. President Donald 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.

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.

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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.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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