Virus surge sparks SAfrica curfew and Spain local lockdown

South Africa re-imposed a nationwide curfew on Sunday while Spain's Catalonia region forced hundreds of thousands of residents back into lockdown as coronavirus cases accelerated in many parts of the world.

South Africa is in the middle of a 'coronavirus storm'

Since the start of July nearly 2.5 million new infections have been reported, a record level since the first outbreak of the disease in China last year, according to an AFP tally.

In just a month-and-a-half the number of cases worldwide has doubled, according to the count based on official figures.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country faced a "coronavirus storm" that was "far fiercer and more destructive than any we have known before" as he re-imposed a night-time curfew and also a ban on alcohol sales barely six weeks after buying booze had become legal again.

"As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries," Ramaphosa said.

New coronavirus infections have topped 12,000 per day -- or 500 per hour -- in South Africa in recent days, making it the fourth-biggest contributor to new worldwide cases after the United States, Brazil and India.

- 'Must stay at home' -

The government of the Catalonia region on Sunday told residents in and around the northeastern town of Lerida to go back into home confinement.

"The people must stay at home," regional health official Alba Verges said.

The area, with a population of more than 200,000, had already been ordered isolated from the rest of the region last weekend.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, wore a face mask in public for the first time, apparently dropping his resistance to the protective item.

He opted for a dark mask bearing the presidential seal during a visit Saturday to wounded veterans in a hospital outside Washington .

"I've never been against masks but I do believe they have a time and a place," he told reporters.

Surveys show most Americans are unhappy with how Trump, who is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the November election, has handled the public health crisis.

The United States is the world's worst-hit country with 135,066 deaths from 3,282,554 cases.

- Mickey masks -

In virus hotspot Florida the Walt Disney World theme park partially reopened after four months of shutdown, with some visitors combining Mickey ears with their mandatory face masks.

Across the planet, the pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people, killed over 566,000 and triggered massive economic damage in the seven months since it was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The latest-high profile personality to test positive for COVID-19 is Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday called on countries to adopt an aggressive approach to tackling the virus, citing successful efforts in Italy, South Korea and elsewhere.

- 'Everything's dead' -

Despite Sunday's lockdown move in Spain, life in parts of Europe has been returning to some semblance of normality, although the continent remains the worst affected with more than 202,000 deaths from over 2.8 million cases.

Elections were held in Spain and Poland Sunday after being postponed because of the virus, with strict hygiene measures in place.

But the tourism industry across Europe has been battered, with many businesses forced to shut because of the impact of punishing lockdowns.

"Everything's dead," said Jesus Maldonado, owner of the Santos Bar just across from the Mesquite, the mosque-cathedral in the Spanish city of Cordoba.

In neighbouring France, where reopened bars and restaurants are bustling in the summer heat, officials have warned of rising cases as the death toll topped 30,000.

- 'Truly tragic' -

The French government said it plans to introduce systematic testing at airports for visitors from so-called category "red" countries where COVID-19 is still prevalent.

In Paris, demonstrating nightclub workers demanded a re-opening of their venues, arguing that strictly-controlled club visits would be safer than unregulated beach parties.

Across the border in Germany, Berlin offered financial help for the city's famous nightclubs which have remained shut for four months. 

In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the situation was "truly tragic" and urged all citizens to help stem what has been the Middle East's deadliest outbreak.

There is little chance of a 100-percent effective coronavirus vaccine by next year, a French expert meanwhile warned Sunday.

"Of course, there is an unprecedented effort to develop a vaccine, but I would be very surprised if we had one that was effective in 2021," epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet said.