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World faces new wave of COVID-19 as 70% of countries report rise

Nations restrict mobility but avoid broad lockdowns

Countries around the world are struggling to contain the virus while reopening their economies. (Source photos from Reuters and AP)

TOKYO/SYDNEY -- COVID-19 infections are increasing around the world, with 126 countries and regions -- about 70% of the globe -- reporting growing cases as of Friday, marking the highest percentage since the beginning of April.

Nikkei examined data from Johns Hopkins University and calculated the number of countries and regions that have recorded new daily highs or upticks in the past week.

Out of 188 countries and regions, 77 were experiencing an upward trend in May. That number has now reached 126.

Forty European countries, or roughly 80% of nations on the continent, are experiencing an uptick. In Asia and Oceania, the percentage is almost 70%.

As the pandemic shows no signs of subsiding, countries face the challenge of balancing reopening their economies and preventing infections.

Spain in particular is seeing notable increases. Currently, its new cases tally is about eight times what it was in June. Australia, too, has recently recorded a daily new high, exceeding the previous peak it saw in late March.

One reason for the surge in cases is increased testing.

In early April, the percentage of positive cases compared with the total number of tests was above 20% in the U.S., and above 7% in Japan. The median rate was down to roughly 2% in July for 88 countries and regions that provide the percentage of positive cases.

According to Max Roser, a fellow at the University of Oxford, 3% is the threshold that indicates a country is experiencing an uptrend. Out of the countries that have provided the percentage of positive cases, half report figures above 3%

Nine countries in Europe, including Spain and Belgium, are reporting cases-to-tests ratios above this threshold. Japan saw the ratio below 1% in June but it is now about 5%. This could mean infections are spreading at a faster rate than testing.

In Europe, countries imposed tough restrictions on movement in April and May, resulting in lower daily new cases. In the past few months, economies in the region have been gradually reopening.

However, according to Germany's Robert Koch Institute, new infections are occurring via family celebrations, in leisure facilities and in offices. Many countries have also been lifting restrictions on overseas travel since June, which is leading to a resurgence of the virus.

As a result, many countries are tightening movement restrictions again. As of Friday, 84 countries and regions have reimposed measures such as prohibiting gatherings and closing amusement facilities.

Twenty-five countries in Europe and 19 countries and regions in Asia and Oceania have reinforced movement restrictions or lockdowns. Several countries have implemented policies that focus on regions with rising cases this time, while they imposed nationwide lockdowns during the first wave of infections.

The imposition of nationwide movement restrictions and lockdowns has severely damaged economies, so authorities are attempting new measures to prevent infections that will not completely smother economic activity.

Some European countries are trying so-called smart lockdowns. In western Germany, a restriction on movement was implemented in Gutersloh county in June, when a massive outbreak occurred at a local food processing factory.

Federal and local governments have agreed to a new strategy to impose a lockdown; they will implement restrictions only in the relevant county or a smaller area, and strictly regulate the inflow and outflow of people from there. A similar measure has been taken in Spain's Catalonia region. On Friday, the U.K. government announced that it would implement social distancing measures such as banning home gatherings in roughly 20 areas.

For international travelers, countries are seeking to avoid another all-out interruption to movement. Italy had started to allow in people from the European Union since early June, but on July 24, it decided to impose a mandatory two-week quarantine period on travelers from Romania and Bulgaria, where cases are on the rise.

In Australia, Queensland State has decided to allow in some domestic travelers but excluded those from Victoria State and Sydney, where infections are increasing.

In Japan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has requested that restaurants in close by 10 p.m.

While there is hope these experimental measures will have a positive effect on containing the virus, time will tell which are the most effective tools as governments and municipalities try to strike the right balance between allowing economic activity and preventing the spread of the disease.

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