Melbourne: Australia on Tuesday ordered millions of people locked down in its second-biggest city to combat a surge in coronavirus cases, as nations across the planet scrambled to stop the rampaging pandemic.
While some countries are worried about second waves of infections, the worst-hit - the United States - was still “knee-deep” in its first, its top expert warned, with cases also surging in India and Brazil.
Global COVID-19 cases have surged past 11.5 million with more than 536,000 dead, and the lingering threat was illustrated by Australia - which had largely suppressed its outbreak - locking down five million people in Melbourne to fight a recent spike.
“We can’t pretend” the coronavirus crisis is over, said Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state, after its capital Melbourne reported 191 new cases in 24 hours.
“These are unsustainably high numbers... There is simply no alternative (to the lockdown) other than thousands and thousands of cases and potentially more.”
The lockdown of the Melbourne metropolitan area would begin at midnight Wednesday and last at least six weeks, while Victoria state will effectively be sealed off from the rest of the country a day earlier.
The United States is still dealing with its first coronavirus wave, warned Anthony Fauci, its top infectious disease expert.
Officials have warned that hospitals in some parts of the country are in danger of being overwhelmed, with many states hit particularly hard after they eased virus restrictions.
“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” warned Fauci on Monday, saying the US never managed to suppress infections to a manageable level before reopening like some European nations.
“We went up, never came down to baseline, and now we’re surging back up. So it’s a serious situation that we have to address immediately.”
The US COVID-19 death toll hit 130,000 on Monday, with confirmed infections fast approaching three million.
Some mayors have said their cities exited lockdown too early, as President Donald Trump tried to downplay the severity of the crisis, instead prioritising economic reopening.
But in the latest example of the human toll, the US government on Monday said it would not allow foreign students to remain in the country if all their classes are moved online because of the virus.
“The worst thing is the uncertainty,” said Gonzalo Fernandez, a 32-year-old student from Spain.
“We don’t know if we will have classes next semester, if we should go home, if they are going to throw us out.”
Bolsonaro tests positive
Around the world, governments are struggling to balance the need to reopen economies wrecked by weeks of lockdown measures against the risk of new infections.
Adding to the complexity of the challenge, a group of experts warned the virus can spread through the air far beyond the two metres (six feet) currently urged in many social distancing guidelines.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 in an escalation of the health crisis that has engulfed Latin America's largest economy.
"I'm perfectly well," Bolsonaro told CNN Brasil in a live interview, after announcing the result of his test. He added he is taking hydroxichloroquine, an anti-malaria medicine he's been touting as being effective against the virus though its use hasn't been authorized by most health experts globally and could carry dangerous side effects.
The 65-year-old president, who during his campaign to reopen the economy called the virus "just a little flu," has repeatedly disobeyed medical recommendations to avoid contamination, mingling in crowds without a face mask and giving people handshakes.
Late on Monday, however, a video posted on YouTube showed a masked Bolsonaro trying not to get too close to supporters who awaited him in front of the presidential palace. He told them he was following social distancing orders from a doctor after showing symptoms of the virus, and added that an exam had shown his lungs were "clean."
Brazil has become a global hotspot for the virus, trailing only the U.S. with more than 65,000 confirmed deaths and over 1.62 million total cases. It has implemented an erratic response to the pandemic, with the president often clashing with state governors and even his health minister over quarantine measures and possible treatments. Brazil's health ministry is currently headed by an interim chief after Bolsonaro fired his first minister and a second resigned.