The world has reached a “new and dangerous phase”, with the highest number of coronavirus cases in a single day reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
As people get “fed up” with enforced lockdown measures, the WHO warned more than 150,000 cases were confirmed in 24 hours – the largest spike to date.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the global pandemic was “accelerating”, with nearly half the new cases from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.
The world has recorded more than 8.5 million infections to date, with the leading countries the USA (more than 2.2 million infections), Brazil (more than 978,000), Russia (568,000), India (380,000) and the UK (303,000).
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“The world is in a new and dangerous phase. Many people are understandably fed up with being at home,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
“Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies. But the virus is spreading fast, it is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.”
The warning comes amid the discovery that the SARS-Cov-2 virus was in circulation in Italy as far back as December, before China officially confirmed the outbreak in Wuhan.
Sampling of wastewater in the northern cities of Milan and Turin found the virus at least two months before Italy’s devastating outbreak, according to the study by Italy’s National Institute of Health.
Many countries, including Australia, are realising that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in sewage and are beginning to use wastewater sampling to track the spread of the disease.
Scientists said the detection in Italy’s wastewater was consistent with evidence emerging in other countries that COVID-19 may have been circulating before China reported the first cases of a new disease on December 31.
However the study did not necessarily prove that Italy’s outbreak, which resulted in more than 34,000 deaths, stemmed from the early samples.
With many countries easing restrictions but fearful of a second wave of COVID-19 disease, WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan has urged a gradual and scientific approach.
“Exiting lockdowns must be done carefully, in a step-wise manner, and must be driven by the data,” he said.
“There is no specific definition of a second wave,” he added, saying new clusters did not necessarily mean a second wave while “second peaks” were also possible in one wave.
Victoria fearful of second wave
Victoria’s concerning rise in coronavirus cases this week has authorities vigilant as the next step to ease restrictions looms.
Gyms, cinemas, indoor sports centres and concert venues are scheduled to reopen on Monday while cafes, restaurants and pubs will increase capacity from 20 people to 50.
Thirteen new cases were recorded on Friday, 18 on Thursday and 21 on Wednesday, resulting in the state’s biggest increase in more than a month.
While the rest of the country’s COVID-19 infections decline, Victoria’s active cases rose to 91 on Friday, up from 66 four weeks ago.
Authorities are relieved that they know the links to most of the cases – many of whom are returned travellers or linked to them.
“We’re hoping that this isn’t the beginning of a second wave and we’re doing everything we absolutely can to make sure that that’s not the case,” Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said.
Overall, 1792 Victorians have been recorded with the virus, though 1680 have recovered.
Five people are in hospital, including two patients in intensive care. Nineteen people have died.
Restrictions ease further
Many Australians are just days away from further easing of coronavirus restrictions, with ski slopes set to reopen and larger crowds allowed in cafes and pubs.
But the tourism industry is warning hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost if borders stay closed and the government pushes ahead with a planned wind-back of the Jobkeeper wage subsidy.
Canberrans are able to join together in larger gatherings over the weekend, with restrictions lifted to allow cinemas and indoor play centres to reopen and gatherings of up to 100 people.
Victoria will lift the number of people allowed to gather outdoors or visit cafes, restaurants, cinemas and stadiums to 50 people from Monday.
In NSW, Thredbo will open its ski slopes on Monday and Perisher from Wednesday, although would-be snow bunnies must have prebooked their lift tickets.
NSW and Victorian residents are expected to be allowed in to SA from July 20.
Queensland is expected to reopen its borders on July 10 and the NT will follow suit on July 17.
There were 20 new cases of coronavirus recorded around Australia on Friday – seven in NSW and 13 in Victoria.