BEIJING: China raised its emergency warning to its second highest level and canceled more than 60% of the flights to Beijing on Wednesday amid a new coronavirus outbreak in the capital — a sharp pullback for the nation that declared victory over the virus in March and a warning for the rest of the world about how tenacious this virus really is.
New infections spiked in India, Iran and US states including Florida, Texas and Arizona as authorities struggled to balance restarting economic activity without accelerating the spread of the pandemic.
European nations, which embarked on a widescale reopening this week, looked on with trepidation as the Americas struggled mightily to contain the first wave of the pandemic and Asian nations like China and South Korea reported new outbreaks, giving rise to fears of a second wave.
Chinese officials described the situation in Beijing as "extremely grave."
"This has truly rung an alarm bell for us," Party Secretary Cai Qi told a meeting of Beijing's Communist Party Standing Committee.
The party's Global Times said 1,255 flights to and from the capital's two major airports were scrapped by Wednesday morning, about two-thirds of those scheduled. Beijing Capital Airport is traditionally the world's second busiest in passenger capacity.
Since the virus emerged in China late last year and spread worldwide, there have been more than 8.1 million confirmed cases and at least 443,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll is much higher, due to the many who died without being tested and other factors.
The US has the most infections and deaths in the world, with a toll that neared 117,000 on Wednesday, surpassing the number of Americans who died in World War I.
Arizona reported a new daily high of nearly 2,400 new infections for a total of more than 39,000, while in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott insisted that the state's health care system could handle the fast-rising number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Tuesday marked the eighth time in nine days that Texas set a new high for COVID-19 hospitalizations at 2,518. State health officials also reported 2,622 new cases, a single-day high.
"It does raise concerns, but there is no reason right now to be alarmed," Abbott said.
Texas began aggressively re-opening its economy on May 1. Abbott noted that Texans may have become lax in wearing masks or practicing social distancing and urged people to stay home as much as possible.
Canada and the US, meanwhile, decided to extend to July 21 a deal to keep their border closed to nonessential travel, with many Canadians fearing cases arriving from the US
"This is a decision that will protect people on both sides of the border," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
As the US struggles with the first wave of the virus, other countries where it was widely thought to be under control faced disturbing developments.