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Rising COVID-19 Cases Worldwide Prompt New Social Distancing Rules, Lockdowns

Health workers screen people for COVID-19 symptoms at a slum in Mumbai, India, July 14, 2020.

With the number of confirmed coronavirus infections around the world topping 13 million, including more than 570,000 deaths, the United States says it expects to start producing potential vaccine doses by the end of the summer, even as more and more governments are imposing, or re-imposing, strict quarantine and social distancing guidelines to blunt the spread of the disease.

The U.S.-based cable financial news channel CNBC reported Monday that a senior Trump administration official told reporters the manufacturing process is already underway even though they aren’t sure which vaccine – if any – will work. The official is quoted as saying they are already buying equipment, securing manufacturing sites, and acquiring raw materials.

CNBC says two companies involved in the development of a potential new vaccine, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are expected to begin late-stage human trials for potential vaccines by the end of the month.

Social distancing

A set of new social distancing measures that took effect Tuesday in Hong Kong includes mandatory face masks for people using public transportation, with violators subject to fines up to $645 ($5,000 in Hong Kong currency). Restaurants are banned from offering indoor dining after 6 p.m., and gyms, movie theaters and karaoke bars are once again ordered to shut down, in response to a new order announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam that limits group gatherings from 50 people to four.

The new guidelines have forced the closure of Hong Kong Disneyland, which had just reopened last month.

The Asian financial hub reported 52 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 41 that were locally transmitted, prompting authorities to issue a warning of a potential large-scale outbreak. The city has reported more than 1,500 total coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

Women hold signs outside housing commission apartments under lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, July 6, 2020.

New spikes

Over in Australia, the southern state of Victoria recorded 270 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, including two deaths, pushing the total number of cases nationwide to 10,251 and 110 deaths. Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne, is in the first week of a six-week lockdown imposed due to an alarming spike of new COVID-19 cases. Residents have been ordered to stay home unless going to work, school, medical appointments or shopping for food.

The neighboring state of New South Wales has imposed a strict new set of restrictions on bars in response to a cluster of 21 new COVID-19 cases traced to a popular bar in Sydney. The new restrictions limit group bookings to just 10 people and cap the number of patrons in large venues to 300.

Wearing face masks in supermarkets and stores in Britain will be mandatory starting next week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office announced Monday.

Face coverings are already required on buses and subways in London and other English cities. Other European countries, including Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain already require face coverings in stores.

Visitors crowd the beach July 12, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif., amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Surge in multiple US states

In the United States, which posted well over 60,000 new infections on Monday, more than three dozen states are seeing a dramatic rise in new coronavirus cases on a daily basis, forcing many of them to reverse plans to reopen their economies after shutting them down during the initial phase of the outbreak.

California Governor Gavin Newsom extended Monday the closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, churches, and amusement centers from 19 counties to the entire state. The neighboring northwestern state of Oregon has banned gatherings of more than 10 people and mandated face masks for all Oregonians.

Across the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced Monday the state is postponing plans to relax its quarantine requirements for some tourists from the U.S. mainland. The popular tourist destination has subjected all visitors to a mandatory 14-day quarantine since the start of the outbreak. The government had planned to make an exception for anyone who tested negative for COVID-19 in the 72 hours leading up to their departure, beginning August 1.

Gov. Ige delayed the revised rules until September 1 because of the dramatic uptick of new cases in many states, which he said has also caused serious delays in testing.