The World Health Organization gave a stark warning on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, after 106,000 new cases were recorded worldwide over the past 24 hours – the most in a single day so far.
Speaking in Geneva, the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the virus was spreading in poorer countries, just as wealthier nations were emerging from lockdown.
“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic. We are very concerned about rising cases in low- and middle-income countries,” he said.
The infection rate has been growing rapidly in Latin America, with Brazil becoming the country with the third most confirmed cases after it surpassed the UK on Tuesday.
The WHO warning came as European countries introduced innovative measures to curb further outbreaks. Spain confirmed face masks will be compulsory in busy city streets, and Germany said swimming pools would reopen without changing facilities.
The Spanish government said masks should be worn from Thursday in enclosed areas and outside where physical distancing cannot be followed. Children under six are exempt, as are people with breathing difficulties. Masks are recommended for three- to five-year-olds.
Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, said the measure was intended to protect both the wearer and those around them. He said there were clear differences between going for a solitary walk in the countryside and navigating crowded urban areas.
“The rules aren’t that complicated: you need to keep a distance from others of around 2 metres,” he said. “If logically, you’re on the street and realise that won’t be possible, you put on your mask and that’s that.”
Until now, face masks – which are being handed out at train and metro stations – have been compulsory only on public transport.
Spain’s prime minister struck an optimistic note on Wednesday after the partial easing of two months of restrictions, which have allowed restaurants and bars across 70% of the country to serve customers outside. Pedro Sánchez said the Spanish people had “beaten the curve”. “No one has the right to squander what we’ve achieved with the lockdown,” he told MPs, as he secured another two-week lockdown extension.
According to a survey by the polling firm Metroscopia, 62% of Spaniards are in favour of the latest extension of the state of emergency that underpins one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
In France the government is to launch a shakeup of the country’s health system, widely considered one of the best in the world. The coronavirus crisis, however, has exposed its failings.
Emmanuel Macron had already promised to overhaul the “salaries, careers, speciality training and professional situation” of staff in hospitals and state-run nursing homes, and to invest and change financing of the system.
A national consultation will be launched next week. The move is seen as the president’s way of saying thank you to underpaid, overworked hospital and care home staff, who have been risking their lives on the Covid-19 frontline.
Olivier Véran, the French health minister, speaking after a council of ministers meeting, said: “Nothing will be as it was before. France has seen what it owes its nurses and carers … their work is the pride of the whole nation.”
In a brief mea culpa he said the government had not acted “quickly or strongly enough” in its hospital changes in recent years.
Meanwhile, in Germany, open-air swimming pools began to reopen on Wednesday, as virologists said they were confident chlorine levels in the water would exterminate Covid-19.
Authorities in the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia granted the 340 lidos in the region permission to open as long as they abide by new hygiene rules that include an online-only booking system and a daily cap on visitors.
In Berlin, swimming pools are set to reopen from 25 May, while other states will follow suit in June.
“All existing findings indicate that the virus is certain to be killed off by chlorine,” the German society for bathing said in a statement. “Therefore there is no higher risk of infection in swimming pools than in other establishments.”
“In indoor and outdoor swimming pools the virus will be killed off by the chlorine,” virologist Jürgen Rissland told regional broadcaster Saarländischer Rundfunk. The risk areas at lidos were therefore not in the water but the adjacent facilities.
Berlin is planning to open its outdoor swimming pools without showers and changing rooms, advising visitors to arrive at the pool in their swimwear.
Greece unveiled its much-awaited tourism plan on Wednesday, designed to lure back visitors. The country is a rare success story and has virtually eradicated the virus after enforcing draconian measures early on.
As the country gradually emerges into the post-lockdown age and restrictions are eased, beaches have been opened up. But some bathers – extending the notion of the “new normal” to the sea – were taking no chances on Wednesday.
On Mykonos, one swimmer was snapped in masks and gloves as he had a paddle in the waters off the Cycladic isle – which is, like all Greek islands, still coronavirus-free.
In other developments:
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Russia passed 300,000. The number – the second highest in the world – now stands at 308,705, after 8,764 new infections were reported on Wednesday.
All 50 states in the US – the country with the highest number of cases – have eased their lockdowns to a greater or lesser extent.
The World Health Organization reported 90,000 confirmed cases in Africa – with more than 35,000 recoveries and 2,885 deaths. The widespread outbreak predicted across the continent has so far failed to materialise.
South Korean high schools opened on Wednesday for the first time since the pandemic began. Mask-wearing senior students went back to class as part of a phased plan to reopen all schools.