England tightens social distancing rules as COVID-19 infections spike

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new restrictions on social gatherings in England, saying there was a clear need to act after a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Speaking at a televised news conference, flanked by his top medical advisers, Johnson said groups of more than six people would be banned from meeting, in what he called a "rule of six" that was easier to understand than previous guidance.

Boris Johnson banned groups of more than six people meeting in England.Credit:Getty Images

"I wish that we did not have to take this step, but as your Prime Minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives," he said, stressing that police and other agencies would be enforcing the rules more actively.

"I will be absolutely clear. This is not, these measures are not, another national lockdown. The whole point is to avoid a second national lockdown," he added.

He also announced an ambitious "moonshot" plan, which he said was not guaranteed to succeed, in which mass testing that delivers fast results could be used to grant more freedom to those confirmed not to have the virus.

"We're hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring," he said.

The number of cases in Britain has begun to rise sharply again in recent days, prompting Johnson to deliver a news conference in his Downing Street office, just as he and other ministers did on a daily basis during the worst of the crisis.

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Britain's numbers were following a similar pattern to that seen in France four weeks ago, and risked continuing to rise sharply as they had done there.

He cited Belgium as an example of a country that had seen a similar increase in cases but had managed to reverse the trend through decisive action.

"This is a clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable chance, or a good chance, of bringing the rates back down under control," Whitty said.

He said the measures were likely to remain in place for more than a few weeks, and warned that difficult times lay ahead as winter conditions made it easier for the virus to spread.

US COVID-19 deaths surpass 190,000 as new hotspots emerge

Coronavirus deaths in the US have topped 190,000 along with a spike in new cases in the Midwest, where states like Iowa and South Dakota have emerged as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.

Iowa presently has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 15 per cent of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19 per cent and North Dakota is at 18 per cent, according to a Reuters analysis.

A man wearing a mask passes the charging bull statue in Manhattan.Credit:AP

The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.

New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the US with a death rate of about 6100 per week from COVID-19 in the past month.

On a per capita basis, the US ranks 12th in the world for the number of deaths, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.

US confirmed cases are the highest in the world, with more than 6.3 million followed by India with 4.4 million cases and Brazil with 4.2 million. The US death toll is also the highest in the world.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast last month that the US death toll would reach 200,000 to 211,000 by September 26.

The University of Washington's health institute last week forecasted that the US deaths from the coronavirus will reach 410,000 by the end of the year.

Czechs order masks indoors as daily cases top 1000 for first time

Czech authorities ordered people to wear face masks inside buildings from Thursday as the daily count of new coronavirus cases topped 1000 for the first time.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech announced the measure after a one-day spike of 1164 infections.

It applies to indoor spaces except homes, classrooms and workplaces where two-metre distancing is possible.

Restaurant customers do not have to wear masks while consuming, and some professions including news anchors and performing artists were exempt.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis urged people to help avoid another lockdown. "We have to react in a way which saves lives, at the same time we cannot afford measures of economic nature," he told a conference in a video message.

"A difficult autumn awaits us."

While the Czech Republic was among the first European countries to adopt masks and close borders and businesses at the start of the pandemic, it was also among the quickest to reopen.

Schools fully reopened on September 1 even as case numbers crept up, and restrictions from face mask rules to attendance at public events remained relatively relaxed.

Masks were reintroduced on public transport last week. In the capital Prague, bars and clubs, which have been the source of several outbreaks, must close by midnight on Wednesday.

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