Respect coronavirus precautions to prevent spread of disease, citizens urged

Asian and European officials have pleaded with their citizens to respect modest precautions as coronavirus outbreaks accelerate in several countries.

Following two nights of anti-lockdown protests in Serbia, authorities banned mass gatherings in the capital Belgrade amid a rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Officials elsewhere in Europe warned of the risk of new flare-ups due to lax social distancing, while authorities in Tokyo and Hong Kong reviewed nightclubs, restaurants and other public gathering spots as a source of their latest cases.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Protesters charged the building of the Serbian parliament in Belgrade on Wednesday (Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)</figcaption>
Protesters charged the building of the Serbian parliament in Belgrade on Wednesday (Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)

Serbia has emerged as a new focus of concern and unrest in Europe.

On Thursday, authorities banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Belgrade, the capital, in what they said is an effort to prevent the further spread of the virus.

They also ordered shorter working hours for businesses such as cafes and shops.

“The health system in Belgrade is close to breaking up,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said.

“That is why I can’t understand what we saw last night and the night before.”

“It will cost us, there is no doubt,” Ms Brnabic said, referring to the possible spread of the virus after large protests that featured little social distancing or mask wearing.

Serbia, which has a population of about 6.9 million, has confirmed more than 17,000 cases of coronavirus, including 341 deaths.

A few hundred new infections are being reported daily.

Critics accuse President Aleksandar Vucic of letting the crisis spin out of control by lifting an earlier lockdown to allow for an election last month that tightened his grip on power.

Mr Vucic’s announcement this week that new measures would include a lockdown sent thousands into the streets and rock-throwing demonstrators fought running battles with special police forces.

The new Government measures do not include the originally planned weekend curfew, but effectively ban further protests.

The French in general have abandoned protective measures

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

In France and Greece, officials warned people are 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,” he said.

“It suffices to have one super-spreader in a gathering and it will take off again.”

Greek Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said authorities are “determined to protect the majority from the frivolous few”.

He said the Government may announce new restrictions, if needed, on Monday.

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

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>A girl wearing a mask runs by the New York Stock Exchange (Mark Lennihan/AP)</figcaption>
A girl wearing a mask runs by the New York Stock Exchange (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Infections mounted at speed in the countries with the world’s highest confirmed caseloads — the US, India and Brazil.

Between them, the three account for the majority of new cases worldwide reported daily.

India reported 25,000 new cases on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the US had reported just short of the record 60,000 cases set a day earlier, and Brazil reported nearly 45,000.

In the US, the total number of confirmed cases has passed three million – meaning nearly one in every 100 people has been confirmed as infected

Meanwhile, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said the continent would be wise to prepare for the worst-case scenario as virus-related deaths passed 12,000 and confirmed cases climbed fast.

In Australia, which had initial success containing the outbreak, 179 new cases were reported on Thursday – mostly in Melbourne, where authorities are battling a resurgence and have imposed a new six-week lockdown.

Tokyo confirmed more than 220 new cases on 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,” governor Yuriko Koike told reporters.

“We need to use extra caution against the further spread of the infections.”

Hong Kong moved to tighten social-distancing measures after it reported 42 new infections on Thursday.

Rules for restaurants, bars and gyms will be tightened for two weeks starting on Saturday.

In India, research by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai shows  the reproduction rate of the virus rose 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.

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