JOHANNESBURG — Pubs, hair salons and movie theatres across England reopened Saturday as part of Britain’s biggest step toward post-outbreak normal, while South Africa and other parts of the world signalled anything but — reporting another day of record confirmed coronavirus cases.
Many people relished the easing of restrictions on public life that had shuttered U.K. restaurants and bars, although a trade group estimated that only about half of England’s pubs elected to open on the first possible day. The ones that decided to start pouring at the earliest hour allowed – 6 a.m. — had customers to serve.
“Let’s not blow it now,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as some in England rushed to restaurants or barbers for the first time in more than Critics pointed to the experience elsewhere in Europe and in some U.S. states, where the reopening of bars and restaurants is blamed for a spike in infections from patrons losing their inhibitions among strangers and abandoning social distancing after imbibing a few drinks.
Reinforcing the concern the British government had been too hasty: the World Health Organization said its member nations reported more than 212,000 new COVID-19 cases to the U.N. health agency Saturday, the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. WHO said more than half of the new confirmed infections were reported from the Americas region, which includes Brazil and the United States.
In the U.S., where many Fourth of July parades and fireworks displays were cancelled because of the virus, health authorities warned that Independence Day would be a crucial test of Americans’ self-control. Confirmed cases are climbing in 40 states, and the U.S. on Saturday reported more than 50,000 new cases nationwide.
More than 11.1 million people around the world are known to have been infected with the virus, 2.8 million of them in the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. With shortages of testing materials, the real number of cases is unknown. More than 527,000 people have died in the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins data.
In South Africa, a growing hot spot as the pandemic picks up speed in parts of Africa, confirmed cases have climbed to more than 177,000, with a record 9,063 reported in the most recent 24-hour period.
If Africa’s most developed country is struggling to manage the pandemic, that’s ominous for less-prepared African nations. Confirmed cases across the 54-nation continent are now above 433,000.
India also reported its highest single-day spike, with 22,771 new confirmed cases for a total of more than 648,000, including 18,655 deaths.
Russia marked a milestone as the death toll rose above 10,000. The national coronavirus task force also reported 6,632 new infections, raising the total for the outbreak to 674,515.
Russia’s caseload is the world’s third largest behind the United States and Brazil, but its reported deaths are lower than many other countries. Officials have denied speculation that the figures are being manipulated.
Elsewhere, authorities targeted communities for special measures as virus clusters emerged.
Authorities in northeast Spain ordered the lockdown of El Segria county around the city of Lleida, home to over 200,000 people, after health officials recorded a jump in 60 cases in 24 hours. The outbreaks are linked to agricultural workers in the rural area.
And Tokyo confirmed 131 new cases, exceeding 100 for the third day in a row and hitting a new two-month high, prompting Governor Yuriko Koike to ask residents to avoid nonessential out-of-town visits.
Australia’s Victoria state locked down nine public housing towers and three more Melbourne suburbs after 108 new cases. Premier Daniel Andrews said 3,000 people in the towers will go into “hard lock down,” meaning “there will be no one allowed in … and no one allowed out.”
Concerns are rising about a resurgence of infections as Japan is now nearly back to business as usual after its state of emergency was lifted in May.
France said it is sending medics to its South American territory of French Guiana, where infections have surged as the virus swept neighbouring Brazil.
Of the roughly 5,000 new cases confirmed across France over the past week, 1,400 were in French Guiana, with a population of just 300,000, according to the health agency. The military is flying patients from saturated facilities to the French Caribbean island of Martinique for treatment.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the way our country reacted to the pandemic has largely proved to be right.” The country, which has over 190,000 confirmed cases and five times fewer deaths than Britain, has started testing asymptomatic people in care homes.
Merkel paid tribute to the elderly, who like elsewhere in the world, have been particularly hard hit. “The most painful thing was surely not to be able to see children and grandchildren for many weeks,” she said.
Determined to enjoy a holiday from months of uncertainty, thousands of tourists waited at the Bulgaria-Greece border for up to five hours under the scorching sun after setting off for Greece’s beaches.