Spain’s northern Catalonia region will make wearing a mask in public spaces compulsory at all times from Thursday morning, as French prosecutors charged two men with with attempted murder after a bus driver was attacked and left brain dead for refusing to drive a group of mask-less men.
The move in Catalonia was announced as the region struggles with a renewed outbreak of coronavirus around Lleida that has forced a new lockdown for 200,000 inhabitants and pushed hospitals to the brink.
The announcement by the Catalan regional leader, Quim Torra, came as authorities around the globe confronted fast-emerging new peaks of the disease even as they looked for ways out of economically damaging nationwide lockdowns. “Masks in Catalonia will be mandatory,” said Torra. Spain has since June ordered the use of masks indoors and outside where 1.5 metres of social distancing cannot be maintained.
© Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP Customers wearing face masks buy clothes for one euro at a stall in a market in Barcelona on Wednesday.
Explaining the move by the Catalan government to toughen the national directive, spokeswoman Meritxell Budó said: “We understand we should go a little further and enforce mask-wearing regardless of the physical distance between people. It is very important to protect ourselves and others.”
The effectiveness of face coverings in preventing the disease has been a controversial issue around the world, even as scientists and the World Health Organization have debated the mechanism for infection, including the danger of airborne transmission, with fierce resistance to mask-wearing in some places.
That issue was underlined by Sunday’s attack in Bayonne in France in which four men attacked 59-year-old bus driver Philippe Monguillot after he asked three of them to wear masks and tried to check another man’s ticket.
Announcing the charges, the assistant prosecutor Marc Mariee denounced an “extremely violent” attack.
“There were insults and then shoving. The bus driver was pushed out of the bus. Two individuals then violently kicked and punched the upper part of his body, including his head,” he told a press conference.
With nearly 11.8m confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide and 543,558 known deaths, the WHO says coronavirus cases are increasing by 200,000 a day, doubling from April and May.
A picture of sudden resurgences of the virus has been grimly familiar from Australia to Israel and Uzbekistan, the US and Catalonia as cities, states and even whole countries have been forced to reimpose tough restrictions.
For its part, Italy on Wednesday called for new precautionary measures for passengers travelling to European Union countries from outside the bloc to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Italy has suspended all flights from Bangladesh for one week due to a “significant number” of passengers who tested positive to Covid-19 on a flight to Rome on Monday.
“I would consider it appropriate to outline together new rigorous precautionary measures for arrivals from non-Schengen and non-EU areas,” the health minister, Roberto Speranza, said in a letter addressed to the EU health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, and Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn.
Israel, which initially drew praise for quickly tackling the first stage of its pandemic when it emerged earlier this year, has reintroduced strict stay-home orders following the spike in infections, running at 1,300 new cases in the last 24 hours, that followed the easing of restrictions in May, with some experts blaming schools and weddings for driving the upsurge.
The increase prompted Israel to last month reimpose the tracking system administered by its domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, but its accuracy in ordering people to self-isolate is now being questioned.
Iran, too, is suffering a resurgence with its coronavirus death toll exceeding 12,000 on Wednesday, and 153 deaths in the past 24 hours.
And amid warnings from the world health body’s experts that the pandemic was continuing to escalate, Africa passed the milestone of 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
The total across the continent is at least more than 504,000 after South Africa recorded another day of more than 10,000 confirmed cases as a new global hot spot.
The true number of cases among Africa’s 1.3 billion people is unknown as its 54 countries continue to face a serious shortage of testing materials for the virus. The WHO’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, last week called this a tremendous problem, a real crisis of access.