China and South Korea reported new spikes in coronavirus cases, setting off fresh concerns in countries where outbreaks had been in dramatic decline, and new protests against pandemic restrictions erupted in Germany despite the easing of many lockdowns in Europe.
In the United States, former President Barack Obama harshly criticised his successor Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster”.
The United States has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths in the pandemic, the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Worldwide, health officials are anxiously watching to see just how much infection rates rise in a second wave as nations and states emerge from varying degrees of lockdown.
China reported 14 new cases on Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days.
Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, which prompted authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.
Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, her three sisters and other family members.
Train services in the county were being suspended.
“Epidemic control and prevention is a serious and complicated matter, and local authorities should never be overly optimistic, war-weary or off-guard,” said the Jilin Communist Party secretary, Bayin Chaolu.
Jilin also shares a border with North Korea, which insists it has no virus cases, much to the disbelief of international health authorities.
South Korea reported 34 more cases as new infections linked to nightclub-goers threatens the country’s hard-won gains against the virus.
It was the first time that South Korea’s daily infections were above 30 in about a month.
President Moon Jae-in said citizens must neither panic nor let down their guard, but warned that “the damage to our economy is indeed colossal as well”.
Across Europe, many nations were easing lockdowns even further on Monday even as they prepared to clamp down on any new infections.
Germany, which managed to push daily new infections below 1,000 before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes.
By Saturday, the country’s public health authority said new infections were above 1,000 again.
German officials have expressed concerns about the growing number of large demonstrations, including one in the southwestern city of Stuttgart that drew thousands of participants.
Police in Berlin stepped in on Saturday after hundreds of people failed to respect social distancing measures at anti-lockdown rallies in the German capital.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states last week cleared the way for restaurants, hotels and remaining stores to reopen.
The country’s football league resumes next week, despite a number of professional players testing positive for Covid-19, and more students are returning to school beginning on Monday.
France, which has a similar number of infections as Germany but a far higher death toll, is also letting some younger students return to school Monday after almost two months out.
Attendance will not be compulsory right away, leaving parents to make the difficult decision of whether it is safe to send their children back to school or not.
Residents in some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places beginning on Monday but Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.