New coronavirus infections rose again in Germany at the end of last week, a few days after leaders loosened social restrictions, while the Chinese city of Wuhan announced it had detected its first case in weeks, helping to push the global total past 4m on Sunday.
On the eve of the UK starting to ease its lockdown on Monday, the new cases in Germany and China illustrated the difficulties governments will face over the next months as they attempt to reopen their societies without triggering a second wave of infections.
France, which also plans to begin easing its tough seven-week lockdown from Monday, announced the discovery of a cluster of at least nine cases linked to a funeral in Dordogne in the south-west of the country.
A local prefect, Frédéric Perissat, said the cluster was “an illustration of what we are hoping not to live through in the next few weeks … There’s a slackening off, people gather in a group of 20 or 30 and one person contaminates others.”
South Korea also warned of a resurgence of Covid-19 on Sunday as infections rebounded to a one-month high as restrictions were starting to be eased.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” the president, Moon Jae-in, said as he cautioned about a potential second wave of the virus later in the year.
The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 34 new infections, the highest since 9 April, after a small outbreak emerged around a number of nightclubs. The authorities promptly closed all night spots around the capital temporarily.
The country is examining whether it will reopen schools in stages starting from Wednesday as it had planned, the health minister, Park Neung-hoo, said.
China reported 14 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, the highest number since 28 April, including the first in five weeks in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak was first detected late last year.
Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the north-eastern province of Jilin, which prompted authorities to raise the risk level in Shulan county to high, days after downgrading all regions to low risk.
Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman. She had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, her three sisters and other family members. Train services in the county were suspended.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for disease control said in a daily bulletin on Sunday the number of people each carrier was infecting in the country – known as the reproduction rate, or R – had risen to 1.1.
The government’s disease control agency said there could be some fluctuations in its estimate for R and that developments in the coming days needed be watched closely.
The chancellor, Angela Merkel, bowed to pressure from leaders of the country’s 16 federal states to restart social life and revive the economy, announcing measures on Wednesday that included more shop openings and a gradual return to school.
At the same time, she launched an “emergency brake” to reimpose restrictions if infections pick up again.
Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat MP and professor of epidemiology, said coronavirus could start spreading again quickly after seeing large crowds out and about on Saturday in his home city of Cologne.
“It has to be expected that the R rate will go over one and we will return to exponential growth,” he said in a tweet. “The loosening measures were far too poorly prepared.”
Loosened lockdowns also caused caseloads to grow elsewhere, including Iran, which has allowed small businesses, shopping centres and barbers to reopen in the recent weeks, arguing that the economy, which was already sagging under punitive US sanctions, needed to begin functioning.
New cases have since grown from 802 in early May to double that over the weekend, taking the total number of confirmed infections beyond 107,000.
Lebanon has reinstated some restrictions after its caseload grew again over the weekend, after falling to zero at the beginning of last week. “The situation is getting worse,” the country’s interior ministry said in a statement announcing a curfew that had been pushed to 9pm would be brought forward by two hours.
It cited a “lack of commitment of many citizens to preventive and public safety measures, and due to the selfishness, disregard and indifference to their health and the health of their communities”.
Singapore announced another 876 new infections on Sunday, taking the city-state’s total to 23,336. The vast majority of the newly infected people were migrant workers living in dormitories, the health ministry said in a statement.
In Italy, which began easing its restrictions last Monday, parks in Milan and Turin were busy over the weekend, drawing criticism from lawmakers.
Milan’s mayor, Beppe Sala, said he was “pissed off” at the scenes of socialising in Navigli, a canal district of the city, and said he would close the area completely if citizens did not respect the rules. Bars and restaurants across Italy can provide takeaway services, but people are not allowed to gather outside.
Spain logged its lowest single-day death toll in almost two months as around half of the country prepares to move into the next phase of its lockdown de-escalation plan on Monday.
According to the latest figures from the health ministry, there were 143 deaths over the past 24 hours, and 621 new cases. Spain has confirmed 224,390 cases and 26,621 deaths to date.
The country is easing restrictions on a region-by-region basis, provided certain criteria is met. The Madrid and Barcelona regions, two of the hardest hit in the country, were deemed not to have qualified to ease their lockdowns yet.
The health minister, Salvador Illa, has said the transition to what the government calls “the new normality” cannot be rushed.
Russia reported an increase of more than 10,000 cases, taking its total above 200,000. Officials have said cases may not peak until June despite a lockdown that prevents Russians from leaving their homes more than twice a week.
Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa nation with the highest number of coronavirus cases on the continent per capita, reversed plans to begin lifting lockdown measures this week, saying it was premature.
“The government, through the voice of the prime minister, has decided to extend the confinement for another week until 17 May,” the foreign minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, said in a Twitter post.
“Noting that the prerequisite conditions are not yet in place, the government made this decision just now,” he said.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Djibouti has the highest number of cases in Africa relative to its population, though its testing has also outpaced many of its neighbours.
Lockdown measures in the country have been largely ignored, with large crowds still common in the capital city.
Agencies contributed to this report