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Countries reimpose restrictions to curb virus resurgence

Costas Kantouris, Vanessa Gera and Rod Mcguirk
Associated Press

Promachonas, Greece – Countries around the world are reimposing lockdowns and implementing new health restrictions at their borders in an effort to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus before it spins even further out of control.

Stricter health checks went into effect at Greece’s border with Bulgaria following an increase in tourism-related COVID-19 cases. Starting Wednesday, all incoming travelers crossing the border point are required to carry negative coronavirus test results issued in the previous 72 hours and translated into English.

The new rules saw a drop in arrivals compared to recent days early Wednesday.

Residents of Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, were warned on Wednesday to comply with lockdown regulations or face tougher restrictions. Melbourne’s 5 million people and part of the city’s semi-rural surroundings are a week into a new, six-week lockdown to contain a new outbreak there.

“The time for warnings, the time for cutting people slack is over,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said. “Where we are is in a very serious and deadly position.”

The developments come with more than 13 million cases of coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, and with over 578,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The actual numbers are thought to be far higher due to a number of reasons including limited testing.

In Serbia, which has been hit hard by a spike in infections and anti-government protests, a government crisis team expanded a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people from Belgrade to encompass the entire country. Masks were also made mandatory in public spaces where there is no opportunity for 1.5 meters (around five feet) of distancing, such as in lines to enter shops and bus stations.

Renewed restrictions took effect in Hong Kong on Wednesday, with public gatherings limited to four people, restaurants restricted to takeout after 6 p.m., and a one-week closure for gyms, karaoke bars, and selected other businesses. Masks were mandated on public transit for the first time, with the non-compliant being fined.

After a surge in daily infections beginning last month, Israel moved last week to reimpose restrictions, closing events spaces, live show venues, bars and clubs. It has imposed lockdowns on areas with high infection rates, which in some cases sparked protests from residents.

Officials have warned that if case numbers don’t come down in the coming days, Israel will have no choice but to lock the entire country down again, as it did in the spring.

“I don’t see what other tools we have aside from a lockdown,” Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Israeli news site Ynet. “Unless there is a miracle.”

South Africa, Africa’s most developed country, is already showing signs of being overwhelmed by the pandemic – an ominous outlook for the rest of the continent of 1.3 billion people. The government reimposed a ban on alcohol sales this week, with the aim being to slow the spread to free up more badly needed hospital beds.

In Spain, authorities in the northeastern Catalonia region made fresh attempts to stem the spread of new coronavirus outbreaks as health experts warned that more and better contact tracing is needed.

Since midnight Tuesday, 160,000 residents in and around the city of Lleida have been forbidden to leave their homes unless it’s properly justified. The area is closed off, with police checkpoints outside every municipality. Bars and restaurants are only open for takeout or delivery.

In Hospitalet de Llobregat, a densely populated town on the outskirts of the regional capital, Barcelona, dozens of people lined up Tuesday at a local health center to be tested for the virus, as infections have shot up from a few dozen to more than 200 in just over three days.

Starting Wednesday, three neighborhoods are seeing more restrictions, including limits to the number of customers in shops and restaurants, while authorities are strongly urging people not to socialize.

Authorities in the English town of Blackburn have imposed new restrictions on social mingling amid what they say is a “rising tide” of new coronavirus cases.

Director of Public Health Dominic Harrison said that if infection numbers didn’t fall by July 27, officials would begin to reimpose lockdown measures such as the closing of shops and other businesses.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Wednesday that the spread of the infections in the Japanese capital have escalated to levels tantamount to “issuing an alarm” and requested residents and business owners to step up their preventive measures, while urging the government to legalize penalties for violators.

However, even as new restrictions are imposed, steps were being taken to help restore a sense of normalcy.

On Tuesday night, Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko announced reopening the border with Russia and resuming the transport connection between the two countries “in the coming days.”

Travelers arriving in Russia starting Wednesday had to either provide coronavirus test results at the border or take a virus test within three days of arriving to the country. Those measures replace a mandatory two-week self-isolation for those arriving to Russia.

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AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.