British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in self-isolation Monday after a contact tested positive for the coronavirus while spiralling infections in the United States saw stay-at-home measures imposed on Chicago, its third-biggest city.
Global infections have soared past 54 million with more than 1.3 million deaths, spurring governments to reimpose unpopular and stifling restrictions on social life, free movement and business.
In hard-hit Europe curbs have been brought back — often in the face of protests — from Greece to Britain, where PM and Covid-19 survivor Johnson insisted he was healthy and isolating out of precaution after coming into contact with an MP who later tested positive for the virus.
“It doesn’t matter that I’m fit as a butcher’s dog, feel great… that I’ve had the disease and I’m bursting with antibodies,” said Johnson, who was hospitalised for the virus in April.
“We’ve got to interrupt the spread of the disease,” he added, saying he would lead the virus response from Downing Street.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for tighter measures, including masks in all schools and smaller class sizes.
Outside work or school, contact between people should also be “restricted to those from another fixed household”, under a proposal from Merkel’s office due to be put to regional leaders.
Germany began a new round of shutdowns in November, closing restaurants, cultural venues and leisure facilities.
But while new cases are plateauing, daily numbers, officials say, are still too high.
In France, which has been under partial lockdown for more than two weeks, health minister Olivier Veran warned the strict measures had slowed the disease but “we have not won against the virus yet”.
Concerns of a resurgence also remain in parts of the world that have largely brought their caseloads under control.
Australia’s Adelaide, which had not seen a significant outbreak in seven months, reported that a new cluster of 17 cases were linked to a hotel used to quarantine travellers returning from overseas.
Authorities snapped back a roster of restrictions and suspended international flights into Adelaide, while other neighbouring states also imposed new measures on those travelling from South Australia.
The sudden curbs brought into question India’s upcoming blockbuster cricket tour from November 27.
In Hong Kong, the government further tightened restrictions from Monday on the number of people in bars and restaurants, to guard against a spike.
And Algeria, facing its own surge of infections, announced new restrictions Sunday that close sport and cultural centres as well as beaches.
Infections in the United States, the world’s worst-hit nation, show no sign of slowing after one million new cases in less than a week pushed the total number past 11 million.
The spikes have prompted new curbs while experts warn families against large gatherings for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
A stay-at-home advisory was to come into force Monday in Chicago, while New York, the epicentre of the spring outbreak in the US, is also rushing to flatten a second curve.
President Donald Trump, already under fire for his pandemic response, has been blamed for further complicating efforts by refusing to concede and cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.
They are not even allowed to consult with the top government immunologist Anthony Fauci.
“Of course, it would be better” if such talks could begin, Fauci told CNN on Sunday, noting the virus could kill tens of thousands more Americans by the time Biden takes office on January 20.
The prospect of a difficult winter has been eased by hopeful news about the vaccine candidate by pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, with trials showing 90 percent efficacy.
“This winter will be hard” without any major impact from vaccinations, Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s co-founder, told the BBC.
But combined with a number of firms working to increase supply, “we could have a normal winter next (year)”.
However World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned, “A vaccine on its own will not end the pandemic…
“Initially supply will be limited to health workers… risk populations will be prioritised that will hopefully reduce the number of death and enable the health system to cope.
“But that will still leave the virus with a lot of room to move,” he said.
As the psychological and economic stress take their toll, many are looking to small ways to break the monotony.
On the Gaza Strip, Palestinians are no strangers to hardship and isolation and many have taken up walking to relieve the stress.
“There’s a lot of mental pressure in Gaza. We suffer from it,” said Walid al-Louh, a 40-year-old who walks the strip’s coastal path.
“I used to walk before coronavirus,” he told AFP. “There were maybe dozens of people walking then, but now its hundreds and hundreds.”