BETHESDA: President Donald Trump finally yielded to pressure and wore a face mask in public for the first time, as new figures on Sunday showed the pace of the global spread of the coronavirus has accelerated.

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 a tally based on official data. And in just a month and a half the number of cases worldwide has doubled, according to the count.

Hours after the World Health Organisation urged countries to step up control measures, Trump donned a dark mask bearing the presidential seal as he visited wounded military veterans in a hospital outside Washington on Saturday.

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

White House experts leading the fight against the virus have recommended wearing face coverings in public to prevent transmission.

Trump in the past repeatedly avoided wearing a mask, even after White House staffers tested positive for the virus and as more aides have taken to wearing them.

He is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the November election and surveys show most Americans are unhappy with how he has handled the public health crisis.

Across the planet, the pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people and killed over 565,000

But Trump has continued to praise his own response despite a cascade of figures showing the extent of the disease’s spread.

The US posted yet another daily record of confirmed cases on Saturday, with more than 66,500 new infections, while the death toll rose by almost 800 to nearly 135,000.

Across the planet, the pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people, killed over 565,000 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 was Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, whose daughter and husband have also been infected.

Last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also tested positive, and again advocated the use of the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine.

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

“Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit,” he said on Friday.

“Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around.”

Life in parts of Europe is gradually returning to some semblance of normality, although the continent remains the worst affected with more than 202,000 deaths from 2.8 million cases.

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

But the tourism industry across Europe has been battered, with many businesses forced to shut up shop because of the impact of punishing lockdowns introduced to stem the transmission of the disease.

In 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.

And the mayor of the French Riviera city of Nice complained about a lack of social distancing at a DJ set thronged by partying crowds, vowing that in future masks would be obligatory at such outdoor events.

The national government has also said it plans to introduce systematic testing at airports for visitors from so-called category “red” countries where Covid-19 is still prevalent.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2020