Virus surges worldwide as public loses faith in authorities

Britain joined France, Germany and Austria in tightening rules on masks and rolling out greater testing. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 July 2020

Virus surges worldwide as public loses faith in authorities

  • The disease has now killed almost 635,000 people around the world
  • Europe accounts for a fifth of the world’s case count so far

WASHINGTON: A surge in coronavirus cases across the United States and Europe has forced governments to strengthen containment measures as a survey released Saturday showed support for the handling of their pandemics has slipped.
The disease has now killed almost 635,000 people around the world and infected more than 15.5 million, according to an AFP tally, with America the hardest-hit nation.
For the second straight day on Friday the US reported more than 70,000 new cases and over 1,000 deaths as the virus takes hold in the country’s south and west.
A similar resurgence in Europe prompted the World Health Organization to sound the alarm over the spread, as Britain joined France, Germany and Austria in tightening rules on masks and rolling out greater testing.
Governments worldwide have struggled to contain the coronavirus despite long and arduous lockdowns imposed on millions of people, and a survey released Saturday showed faith in authorities to be dwindling in six rich nations.
Populations in France, Germany, Britain, Japan, Sweden and the US widely believed death and infection figures to be higher than recorded, according to the study, which polled 1,000 people in each nation.
“In most countries this month, support for national governments is falling,” the report by the Kekst CNC communications consulting group said.
Europe accounts for a fifth of the world’s case count so far.
The WHO’s European chapter expressed concern Friday about the rise in cases on the continent in the past two weeks and warned tighter restrictions may be needed.
A three-year-old girl this week died in Belgium, becoming the country’s youngest victim of the virus.
“The recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases in some countries following the easing of physical distancing measures is certainly cause for concern,” a WHO Europe spokeswoman told AFP.
“If the situation demands, reintroduction of stricter, targeted measures with the full engagement of communities may be needed.”
Outbreaks have been seen recently in the Spanish regions of Aragon and Catalonia where officials have reintroduced curbs on daily life and urged Barcelona residents to only leave home for essential trips.
French Prime minister Jean Castex said on-the-spot testing would be rolled out for travelers arriving in France from 16 high-risk countries.
Masks are now mandatory in enclosed spaces across the nation and there are fears that the summer holiday season could see a new spike in the disease as people flock to beaches and tourist spots.
Britain on Friday also made it compulsory to wear a face covering in shopping centers, banks, takeaway outlets, sandwich shops and supermarkets.
Exceptions have been made, including for children under 11 or people with respiratory problems, but others who refuse to cover their nose and mouth in the UK risk a fine of up to £100 ($130).
Austria has reimplemented a similar policy with face masks mandatory again in a range of places from supermarkets to pharmacies — the rule previously having been relaxed.
“It was a mistake to lift mandatory mask use so soon,” said one Austrian shopper, Andreas Poschenreither.
New outbreaks continue to wreak havoc elsewhere around the world, with fresh clusters emerging across Asia.
South Korea on Saturday reported its highest infections figure in nearly four months, and in Vietnam the first locally-transmitted case in nearly 100 days was detected.
Authorities in China said Friday they would introduce a new wave of testing in the port city of Dalian, home to about six million people, after fresh infections were detected there.
The local government’s health commission said the city must “enter wartime mode” to prevent any spread as it announced on-the-spot nucleic acid tests for people using the subway system and new lockdowns for some communities.


Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Updated 9 min 19 sec ago

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

  • As foreign visitors remain barred from entering the country, government plans to boost domestic tourism to keep hospitality sector afloat
  • COVID-19 has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to national revenue

JAKARTA: Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, a senior minister announced during a meeting with the country’s business community on Thursday. 
As Indonesia still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat. 
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said during the virtual forum with Indonesian businesspeople, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11. 
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak. 
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.  
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.” 
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana told Arab News. 
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.  
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said. 
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue. 
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers. 
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.