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Thu. 8:33 a.m.: Masks, travel restrictions, testing as virus cases surge

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gears disinfect as a precaution against the new coronavirus today at a train station in Daejeon, South Korea. (Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Coronavirus case numbers are rising to dire new levels in several U.S. states and around the world, potentially wiping out two months of progress in fighting the pandemic and prompting governments and businesses to impose new restrictions.

Indonesia exceeded the 50,000 mark for confirmed infections today as the government allowed businesses to reopen amid increasing economic pressures. In Melbourne, Australia, health workers planned to go door-to-door to test more than 100,000 residents in a coronavirus hot spot that threatens to undo the nation’s success in battling the virus.

In the Indian capital of New Delhi, which has reported over 70,000 cases, authorities will conduct house-to-house screenings for the virus. With the city’s hospitals overwhelmed, military personnel were providing care at makeshift medical wards fashioned from railroad coaches. India reported a record 16,922 cases today, taking the national total to 473,105, with nearly 15,000 deaths.

American hospital officials and health experts, meanwhile, are warning that politicians focusing on the economy and a public tired of being cooped up are letting a deadly medical disaster spiral to new heights. The 34,700 COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday returned the U.S. to near its late April peak of 36,400 new cases in one day, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Several states have set single-day case records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Some also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.

“People got complacent,” said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of the Houston Methodist hospital system. “And it’s coming back and biting us, quite frankly.”

The virus has been blamed for over 120,000 U.S. deaths — the highest toll in the world — and more than 2.3 million confirmed infections nationwide. On Wednesday, the widely cited University of Washington computer model of the outbreak projected nearly 180,000 U.S. deaths by Oct. 1.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that their states, which were devastated by early outbreaks that appear to be under control, will now require travelers from certain states to quarantine for 24 days upon arrival.

The quarantine applies to people coming from states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average, or with a 10 percent or higher positive rate over seven days.

European nations appeared on track to reopen their shared borders by July 1, and their EU representatives debated criteria for lifting restrictions on visitors from outside Europe. In Greece, aviation officials were visiting regional airports that are due to open to direct international flights on July 1.

Americans are unlikely to be allowed into EU nations for at least the next few weeks, given how the pandemic is flaring in the U.S. and President Donald Trump’s ban on Europeans entering the United States.

World financial markets were rattled by the setbacks in fighting the pandemic, which clouded prospects for recoveries of economies mired in their worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Asian shares fell today after the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 700 points overnight for a drop of 2.7 percent and the broader S&P 500 fell 2.6 percent.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that the continent’s cases have surged to more than 336,000, up by 10,000 from a day earlier. The Africa CDC chief said the pandemic on the 54-nation continent “is picking up speed very quickly” while shortages of testing materials and medical equipment remain severe.

Alarmed, some states are moving to ensure more consistent use of face masks and other anti-virus measures.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, ordered people to wear masks in public as the daily count of hospitalizations and new cases hovered near records. In Florida, several counties and cities recently enacted mask requirements.

Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said he worries that states will squander what time they have to head off a much larger crisis.

“We’re still talking about subtlety, still arguing whether or not we should wear masks, and still not understanding that a vaccine is not going to rescue us,” he said.

In Paris, the city’s iconic Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors for the first time today after its longest-ever closure in peace time: 104 days. But enjoying views from the top requires some effort: the lift that normally carries visitors up the 324-meter (1,063-feet) tall wrought-iron structure remains closed, so for now people have to take the stairs.

“It’s very special, very special because it’s only the Paris people,” said Annelies Bouwhuis, a 43-year-old visitor from the Netherlands. “We’ve seen a lot Paris people enjoying their city, enjoying their parks without all the tourists.”

Skyscraper-studded Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, ended a monthslong nightly curfew, saying in a tweet that there would be “free move all day & night” as long as people wore masks and maintained social distancing.

In China, where the virus first appeared late last year, an outbreak in Beijing appeared to have been brought under control. China reported 19 newly confirmed cases nationwide amid mass testing in the capital.

South Korea was still struggling to quell an outbreak there, reporting 28 new cases today, mostly associated with nightlife, churches, a huge e-commerce warehouse and door-to-door sales. But the numbers have not reached the hundreds of new cases every day in late February and early March.

Worldwide, over 9.4 million people have been confirmed infected, and nearly 500,000 have died, by Johns Hopkins’ count. Experts say those numbers are low due to limited testings and missed mild cases.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, said when countries will hit their peak numbers of infections hinges entirely on what people do.

“There are no magic answers. There are no spells here. You can’t divine this away,” Ryan told reporters in Geneva. “We have to act at every level.”

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