Paris masks up as European leaders warn virus fight getting tougher

Paris (AFP) –


Masks became compulsory outdoors all over Paris on Friday as France joined a growing global battle against new virus outbreaks, while Germany warned the crisis will be "more difficult" in the autumn and winter.

There has been a surge of infections in many countries as well as a rising global death toll, which now stands at more than 832,000.

In the worst-hit United States, where there are more than 180,000 fatalities, US President Donald Trump pledged to "crush" the virus with a vaccine by the end of the year.

The total number of declared cases has now topped 24.5 million since since the virus first emerged in China almost nine months ago.

Announcing the new mask rules for Paris, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday there was an "undeniable resurgence" of the disease throughout the country.

"The epidemic is gaining ground, and now is the time to intervene."

On Thursday, official data showed 6,111 confirmed new cases in 24 hours nationwide, a record since the end of France's lockdown in May, and French leaders said they cannot exclude out a new stay-at-home rule.

Masks were already compulsory on public transport, in enclosed public spaces, and outdoors in Paris in certain high-congestion areas around tourist sites.

- 'Challenging' -

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the battle against the virus is "likely to be more difficult over the next few months" as people start spending more time indoors.

She and state leaders agreed Thursday to toughen face mask rules and ban large events until the end of the year to combat rising case numbers in Germany blamed mainly on summer travel and private parties.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also warned of a "challenging" autumn and winter but predicted a return to "normal" next year.

He said the government would decide next week whether to further tighten measures.

The Spanish government said this week children as young as six will be required to cover their nose and mouth at school, while Britain reversed earlier guidance that pupils aged 11-18 did not need to wear masks.

South Korea also decided Friday to ramp up coronavirus curbs in the greater Seoul area, home to half the country's 52 million people, as clusters grow.

The country largely overcame an early outbreak with extensive tracing and testing, but is now battling several new clusters mostly linked to Protestant churches.

The authorities reported 371 new cases Friday, the 15th consecutive day of triple-digit increases.

Under the new rules, gyms and other indoor sports facilities such as screen golf venues will be closed.

The United States passed the grim milestone of 180,000 coronavirus deaths Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University's real-time tracker, saying it added 931 new virus deaths in 24 hours.

The US is by far the hardest-hit country in the world in terms of both number of cases and deaths.

"We are marshalling America's scientific genius to produce a vaccine in record time," Trump said as he accepted the Republican nomination for a second term.

"We will have a safe and effective vaccine this year and together we will crush the virus."

Countries worldwide are struggling to balance the need for populations to get back to work and study with keeping cases under control -- fearing above all a return to draconian lockdowns.

Japan said it will lift a re-entry ban on foreigners from next month amid efforts to rebuild the virus-hit economy but would maintain rules to keep the disease at bay.

Japan has been hit less hard than most advanced economies by the coronavirus, with just over 65,000 cases, and around 1,200 deaths.

The British government urged people to return to work amid concern about the impact of the lockdown on the economy and struggling high street businesses.

An industrial body forecast this week that the UK economy will lose about £22 billion (29 billion, 24 billion euros this year.

Fourteen million fewer tourists explored the French capital in the first six months of 2020 compared to last year, according to the regional president Valerie Pecresse.