Belgium Makes Indoor Mask-Wearing Mandatory

No letup in spread of the novel coronavirus around the world, as the United States, Brazil and India continue to suffer the most.

A worker places the body of a Covid-19 into a crematorium oven in Lommel, Belgium, in April. (AP photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Wearing a face mask will become mandatory on Saturday in Belgian shops, cinemas, entertainment venues and other indoor spaces.

The Belgian government said the decision was made after a meeting of politicians and experts in charge of the lockdown exit strategy who decided to follow recommendations issued by the Health Ministry’s scientific advisory body.

The compulsory use of masks already implemented on public transportation will be extended to conference centers, places of worships, museums and libraries.

Masks remain optional for children younger than 12 in all circumstances.

The government said places that won’t respect the decision could be shut down, and Belgian residents who won’t follow the new guidelines will face penalties.

Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic, with 9,781 deaths recorded in the small country of 11 million inhabitants. The number of infections, however, has nosedived over the past two months, with about 85 new cases recorded every day over the past week.

Here are more coronavirus reports from around the world.

Tokyo has found 243 new cases of the coronavirus, surpassing 200 for a second day in a row and setting a new record.

The numbers reported Friday are fueling concerns about the spread of infections in the Japanese capital, where people are encouraged to pursue social and economic activity while taking safety precautions.

Friday’s record daily increase exceeds the 224 reported the day before, which was the highest since April 17, when Japan was under a state of emergency that ended in late May.

Businesses have largely returned to usual and people are now commuting on packed trains again. The number of daily cases in Tokyo started rising in late June.

In London, the British government removed Serbia from the list of countries from which people arriving back to England can avoid a 14-day quarantine.

The government said Serbia has been removed because of a recent spike in coronavirus infections that’s seen the country reimpose a number of lockdown restrictions.

Serbia was originally on the list of 76 countries and territories exempted from quarantine. The list includes popular destinations such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain, but not the United States, which is still considered high-risk.

Scotland’s list of countries is slightly different to that for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It still requires people from Spain to quarantine, for example.

The travel industry is hoping that the new rules will help them salvage part of the summer holiday booking season that has been battered by the pandemic.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka 196 more coronavirus cases were confirmed at a rehabilitation center for drug addicts.

The numbers announced by the government Friday take the total at the center to 252.

The number of infections found in the past two days are the highest in months. Though all have been in known clusters, there are fears of a spillover into the broader community.

Sri Lanka has reported 2,350 coronavirus cases so far with 11 deaths.

In New Delhi, India reported another record one-day spike in coronavirus cases, prompting some states to reimpose lockdowns in high-risk areas.

The 26,506 cases reported Friday bring India’s total to 793,802 infections. The Health Ministry also reported another 475 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 21,604.

The ministry said the recovery rate was continuing to improve, at more than 60%.

The eastern state of Bihar reimposed a full lockdown in the state capital Patna and four other districts for a week beginning Friday to curb a surge in cases.

India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, with nearly 230 million people, announced a weekend lockdown beginning Friday night. All private shops and businesses across the state will remain closed except pharmacies and shops selling groceries, milk and produce.

In Wellington, New Zealand, a second man this week is facing charges for escaping from a hotel where he was being held in quarantine, allegedly to buy alcohol.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, head of managed isolation and quarantine, said the man cut through fence ties at the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton on Thursday and was gone for about 30 minutes, visiting a nearby liquor store before returning.

The man made his first court appearance Friday and was not required to enter a plea.

Earlier this week, another man, who’d recently returned from India, escaped from his Auckland hotel and allegedly went shopping at a supermarket. He later tested positive for the virus.

New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the virus and is trying to contain cases at the border by placing new arrivals into a 14-day quarantine at hotels.

In Islamabad, Pakistan reported that its death toll from Covid-19 has exceeded 5,000 people, though its daily infection rate continued to drop, with 2,751 new cases during the past 24 hours.

The numbers reported Friday are down from a high just a few weeks earlier of nearly 9,000 a day.

Pakistan’s testing rate has also dropped, with 23,255 tests carried out in the past 24 hours from a previous high in June of more than 32,000 daily tests.

Prime Minister Imran Khan warned Pakistanis on Thursday that infection numbers could soar if people ignore precautions like mask wearing and social distancing during the Eid-al Adha holy days beginning at the end of July.

In Melbourne, Australia, the coronavirus hotspot Victoria state has become the first to recommend its residents wear masks in some circumstances after posting a new record daily tally of 288 new cases.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the tally reported Friday reflected a new record of more than 37,500 tests in a day. The previous case record was 191 set on Tuesday.

Andrews recommended Victoria residents wear masks if they can’t maintain 1.5 meters social distancing, such as on public transport or in supermarkets.

Australia will more than halve the rate at which its citizens and permanent residents can return home on international flights to reduce numbers in hotel quarantine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the number allowed to return to Australia each week would be reduced by more than 4,000 from next week.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, authorities will halt indoor restaurant service, close state parks to nonresidents and suspend autumn contact sports at schools in response to surging coronavirus infections in the state and in neighboring Texas and Arizona.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham unveiled the sweeping orders Thursday. She said they will take effect Monday, and that “we are at war with Covid-19.”

Canceled autumn sports include football and soccer and affect not only public schools but recreational leagues for all ages. People exercising outdoors will be expected for the first time to wear a mask.

The governor said nonresidents who enter New Mexico with out-of-state plates should be prepared to answer questions about their compliance with the 14-day self-quarantine mandate.

In Phoenix, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is ordering restaurants to work at half of capacity, but he declined to shut them down entirely as authorities seek to control a resurgent coronavirus outbreak that has doubled the daily case count in two weeks.

Ducey also said Thursday the state will increase testing with a focus on low-income areas of Phoenix as many people report it hard or impossible to find tests.

Arizona continues to report record highs for hospitalizations and use of ventilators. After a drop in the number of new cases in the early part of the week, they shot back above 4,000 on Thursday.

Officials reported 75 additional deaths, increasing the state’s total to 2,038. The additional 4,057 confirmed cases reported Thursday brought the total to 112,671.

In Seoul, South Korea, the government reported 45 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus as health authorities scramble to stem infections in major cities across the country.

The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought the national caseload to 13,338, including 288 deaths.

Twenty-three of the new cases were in the Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the center of a virus resurgence since late May. Infections were also reported in other major cities Gwangju and Daejeon.

Health authorities say they are stuck in a difficult game of whack-a-mole, with new clusters popping up from various places — including churches, restaurants, nightspots and office buildings — as people increasingly venture out in the public.

In Beijing, China reported four new confirmed coronavirus cases, and officials said all of them were brought from outside the country.

No new deaths were reported Friday and 342 people remain in treatment. An additional 121 people are in isolation and being monitored as being suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing any symptoms.

China has reported 4,634 deaths from Covid-19 among 83,585 confirmed cases since the virus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

In Jackson, Mississippi, officials say the state’s five largest hospitals had no intensive care unit beds available for patients by midweek because of a surge in coronavirus cases. Four more hospitals had 5% or fewer ICU beds open.

Mississippi has one of the fastest-growing rates of new coronavirus cases in the United States.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that starting early next week he will require people to wear masks in public places in the 13 counties showing the greatest recent increases in cases. Business owners in those counties will be asked to screen employees for infections.

Reeves said he also will limit gatherings to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors in the 13 counties. The current statewide limit is 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

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