World

No cases in China, virus spikes elsewhere

By AAP Newswire

New coronavirus cases in China have fallen to zero for the first time but surged in India and overwhelmed hospitals across Latin America - both in countries lax about lockdowns and those lauded for firm, early confinement.

The virus also hit a reopened church in Germany and is suspected at a restaurant.

The pandemic's persistence stymied authorities struggling to keep people safe and revive their economies at the same time, disrupting Memorial Day weekend in the United States and collective celebrations around the Muslim world marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Turkey imposed its toughest lockdown measures yet starting on Saturday for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan and Yemen's Houthi rebels urged believers to use masks and stay inside as authorities try to contain infections at a time usually marked by days of multi-generational feasting and collective prayer.

Elsewhere, many governments are easing restrictions as they face a political backlash and recessions brought on by the battle against the virus.

In just a few months, the pandemic has killed at least 338,000 people worldwide and infected more than 5.2 million, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

In Germany, which has drawn praise for its handling of the virus, seven people appear to have been infected at a restaurant in the northwest of the country. It would be the first known such case since restaurants started reopening two weeks ago.

And in the southwestern city of Frankfurt, more than 40 people tested positive after a church service of the Evangelical Christian Baptist congregation on May 10. The city's health office said one is hospitalised.

A church leader said the community had complied with all hygiene rules but has cancelled all gatherings and is now holding services online. Authorities in nearby Hanau decided to call off Muslim prayers planned for a stadium Sunday as a precaution.

The new infections are not perceived as a threat to Germany's overall virus strategy, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country had "succeeded so far in achieving the aim of preventing our health system being overwhelmed".

Religious events helped spread the virus early in the pandemic, and resuming gatherings of the faithful is an especially thorny issue.

US President Donald Trump on Friday called on governors to let houses of worship reopen this weekend.

"I'm identifying houses of worship - churches, synagogues and mosques - as essential places that provide essential services," he said.

France allowed religious services to resume starting on Saturday after a legal challenge to the government's ban on gatherings in places of worship.

One of the world's major pilgrimage sites is reopening on Sunday: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

Latin America is the latest epicentre of the virus, with Brazil and Mexico reporting record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fuelling criticism of their presidents for limited lockdowns.

But infections also rose and intensive care units were swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, all countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

One sign of hope emerged on Saturday: China, where the outbreak was first detected late last year, reported no new confirmed cases for the first time.

As Japan reopens, guidelines were released for bar hostesses and other nightlife workers to wear masks, gargle every 30 minutes and disinfect karaoke microphones after each use.

Concerns are rising in India, where new cases showed another record jump on Saturday, topping 6000 for a second consecutive day as a two-month lockdown has eased. States with relatively few cases have registered spikes in recent days as residents, including migrant workers travelling on special trains, have returned home.

While some countries are facing a second wave of infections, badly hit Russia is still struggling with its first, and reported more than 9000 new daily cases on Saturday.