UK, London, July 20, 2020 (The Guardian): Members of the public in Hong Kong, France and parts of Australia have been ordered to wear masks when outside their homes, as governments around the world attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 amid soaring infection rates and death tolls.
The virus has now infected almost 14.5 million people worldwide and killed more than 605,000.
The United States – the worst-affected country by far – has recorded almost 3.7 million infections and 140,00 deaths. Yet the country is struggling to frame a consistent response to the crisis, with president Donald Trump refusing to mandate mask wearing in public and calling White House infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci “a little bit of an alarmist”.
Officials in the Australian state of Victoria have taken a tougher approach. Face masks and coverings will be mandatory for roughly five million people in and around Melbourne from Thursday, with the threat of $140 fines for transgressors. The region recorded 275 cases on Monday. Almost 150 people are in hospital, including 31 in intensive care.
“Most of us wouldn’t leave home without our keys, we wouldn’t leave our home without our mobile phone. You won’t be able to leave home without your mask,” said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.
In France, too, people will risk a fine of 135 euros ($154) starting on Monday for failure to comply with a new decree to wear a mask in public places indoors.
Hong Kong also stiffened its measures, with leader Carrie Lam confirming on Sunday daily infections passing 100 for the first time in the territory.
Lam had already ordered business closures and made face masks compulsory on public transport, but she said it would soon be mandatory to wear them inside any public indoor venue.
In the US, however, Trump refused to mandate mask wearing.
Speaking to Fox News on Sunday, Trump said, “Everybody was saying ‘Don’t wear a mask,’ all of a sudden everybody’s gotta wear a mask and as you know masks cause problems, too. With that being said, I’m a believer in masks I think masks are good. But, I leave it up to the governors.”
The New York Times reported that the Trump administration’s decision to leave mask rules up to governors, “has led to a patchwork of policies. More than half the states have issued mask requirements, but with many Americans feeling that mask orders impinge on individual freedom, some governors are holding out.”
European leaders meanwhile struggled meanwhile to save a beleaguered €750bn ($860bn) virus recovery package at a summit on Sunday. Economic recovery is at the forefront of policymakers’ minds, with the continent facing a crippling recession and still unable to agree on the terms of its massive package to help the most-affected countries.
In a heartfelt speech, EU Council President Charles Michel reminded the bloc’s 27 leaders of the devastating human cost of the pandemic – 600,000 dead including 200,000 in Europe – and urged them to come together to complete a “mission impossible”.
“The question is this: are the 27 leaders, responsible for the people of Europe, capable of building European unity and trust?” Michel said.
“Or will we present the face of a weak Europe, undermined by mistrust?”
Other key developments in the pandemic include:
- South Africa’s death toll from coronavirus passed the 5,000 mark, according to official figures released on Sunday. South Africa registered 85 new deaths from the virus in the previous 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 5,033. A total of 13,449 new infections were also officially diagnosed, taking the number to 364,328, figures released by the health ministry showed.
- China has recorded 17 cases of coronavirus in the western province of Xinjiang. The capital Urumqi has entered a “wartime state”.
- The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, said on Sunday that he would postpone the second phase of the country’s economic reopening, slated to begin Tuesday, after evaluating inputs from experts and the Salvadoran health ministry.
- North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un berated construction managers for unspecified problems in building a showpiece hospital in comments reported Monday that may indicate the country is struggling to secure supplies amid US-led sanctions and a coronavirus lockdown.
- Papua New Guinea recorded its first Covid-19-related death – the first Pacific island fatality outside US territories and the first in Melanesia – as it seeks to contain an outbreak in the main hospital in its capital, Port Moresby.