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Europe fears complacency; virus hits 'full speed' in Africa

BELGRADE, Serbia: Asian and European officials pleaded with their citizens Thursday to respect modest precautions as several countries saw Coronavirus outbreaks accelerate or sought to prevent new flare-ups, while the virus showed no signs of slowing its initial advance in Africa and the Americas.

Officials elsewhere in Europe warned of the risk of new flareups due to lax social distancing, while officials in Tokyo and Hong Kong reviewed nightclubs, restaurants and other public gathering spots as a source of their latest cases.

Infections mounted at a frightening speed in the countries with the world's highest confirmed caseloads — the United States, India and Brazil. Between them, the three account for the majority of new cases worldwide reported daily.

India on Thursday reported 25,000 new cases; the United States on Wednesday reported just short of the record 60,000 cases set a day earlier, and Brazil reported nearly 45,000. In the U.S., the total number of confirmed cases has passed 3 million — meaning nearly one in every 100 people has been confirmed as infected

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the continent would be wise to prepare for the worst-case scenario as virus-related deaths passed 12,000 and confirmed cases climbed fast. A day after confirmed virus cases across Africa surpassed half a million, the total was over 522,000, and the actual number of cases is unknown since testing levels are low.

'We've crossed a critical number here," Africa CDC chief John Nkengasong said of the half-million milestone. "Our pandemic is getting full speed."

Serbia, which has a population of about 6.9 million, has confirmed more than 17,000 cases of the new Coronavirus, including 341 deaths. A few hundred new infections are being reported daily. Critics accuse President Aleksandar Vucic of letting the crisis spin out of control by lifting an earlier lockdown to allow for an election last month that tightened his grip on power.

Vucic's announcement this week that new measures would include a lockdown sent thousands into the streets, and rock-throwing demonstrators fought running battles with special police forces. The new government measures don't include the originally planned weekend curfew, but effectively ban further protests.

Flare-ups of new virus cases are causing concern in several parts of the world, and in some cases leading to the reintroduction of restrictions on public activity.

In France and Greece, officials warned that people were too frequently ignoring safety guidance.

Petsas said authorities were focused on the rising number of cases in nearby Balkan countries and tourists who traveled to Greece over the land border with Bulgaria.

In Australia, which had initial success containing the outbreak, authorities on Thursday reported 179 new cases, most in Melbourne, where authorities are battling a resurgence and have imposed a new six-week lockdown.

Tokyo confirmed more than 220 new cases Thursday, exceeding its record daily increase from mid-April and prompting concerns of widening of the infections. Hong Kong moved to tighten social-distancing measures after it reported 42 new infections on Thursday. Rules for restaurants, bars and fitness centers will be tightened for two weeks starting Saturday.

The overall number of global COVID-19 cases has surpassed the 12 million mark, while the deaths have increased to more than 548,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University. As of Thursday morning, the total number of cases stood at 12,009,301, while the fatalities rose to 548,822, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update.

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