The United States marked a grim milestone on Wednesday when its coronavirus deaths topped 150,000 -- far exceeding the toll in any other pandemic-hit nation.

Brazil is second to the US in terms of cases and fatalities, and also reported a sobering figure as it surpassed 90,000 deaths.

Hajj in Mecca
The hajj in Mecca is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings and last year attracted 2.5 million visitors, but this year a maximum of 10,000 people will take part Photo: Saudi Ministry of Media / -

Nations around the globe, even those that believed they had largely curbed the disease, are seeing a rise in cases that are damaging economies and forcing protection measures that have disrupted all aspects of life.

The sacred hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has begun with some 10,000 Muslim faithful allowed, instead of the roughly 2.5 million that attended last year.

Coronavirus restrictions
Selected countries and territories that have recently adopted new measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, as of July 29. Photo: AFP / Gal ROMA

Pilgrims were brought in small batches into Mecca's Grand Mosque, walking along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls inside its walls.

Even with efforts in place to contain the virus, COVID-19 has killed more than 661,000 people around the world and total infections are approaching 17 million.

Official figures in India continue to be undercut by studies suggesting a huge proportion of poorer people living in crowded slums have had the disease but have never been tested Photo: AFP / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE

The EU is due Thursday to update its list of countries approved for travel to the European bloc, which it reviews every two weeks. The United States was not on the list and is not expected to be included.

China saw a three-month high of 101 new virus cases on Wednesday because of a localised outbreak in the northern port city of Dalian Photo: AFP / STR

On Wednesday alone the country recorded 1,267 new deaths in the past 24 hours and notched more than 68,000 new daily cases, with southern and western states particularly hard-hit -- especially Florida, where more than 6,300 people have died.

The EU's safe list does, however, include Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

coronavirus lockdown
US Congress leaders conceded they were still far from a deal to support the world's leading economy, which has been brought to its knees by the pandemic and shutdowns Photo: AFP / VALERIE MACON

The bloc is expected to announce that Algeria is being removed from the list after a resurgence of coronavirus.

Meanwhile several countries in Europe have slapped restrictions on travel to and from Spain, while officials in Europe ramp up a spat over the seriousness of the current outbreak.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh from announcing quarantine for travelers returning from Spain, suggested the rest of Europe could be facing a second wave -- despite his own country's dismal figures.

Hajj in Mecca
Mask-clad Muslim pilgrims begin the annual hajj, dramatically downsized this year as the Saudi hosts strive to prevent a coronavirus outbreak during the five-day pilgrimage. The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings. Photo: AUDIO NETWORK / STRINGER

France's health minister hit back on Wednesday, saying his country was categorically not in a second wave.

"Clusters are emerging, we have warning signs from certain hospitals that have seen a trend of increasing admission," Olivier Veran said, adding: "We are testing a lot more."

China coronavirus
China saw a three-month high of 101 new virus cases on Wednesday because of a localised outbreak in the northern port city of Dalian Photo: AFP / STR

Spain, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, insists it is a safe destination and was critical of Britain's blanket quarantine, which includes islands without significant outbreaks.

Brazil also wants visitors back, and on Wednesday reopened travel to foreigners arriving by plane, hoping to revive its lockdown-devastated tourism industry.

Brazil closed its air borders to non-residents on March 30, at a time when the virus was just taking hold in South America.

As a whole, Latin America's biggest economy is facing a record contraction of 9.1 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The blizzard of alarming data continued too in east Asia, with China seeing a three-month high of 101 new virus cases on Wednesday because of a localized outbreak in the northern port city of Dalian.

Officials blamed contaminated packaging on imported seafood -- similar reasons have been offered to explain previous Chinese outbreaks.

Further south, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam warned the financial hub was facing a "large-scale community outbreak" that could lead to a "collapse of our hospital system".

All residents in the densely packed city of 7.5 million are under orders to wear masks outdoors and restaurants can only serve takeaway meals, in a blow for diners during the city's hot and humid summer.

"It's so hot outside now, 10 minutes after I start work, my shirt is all sweaty," a construction worker told AFP as he tucked into a pork chop, admitting he missed air-conditioned restaurants.

While some labor in the heat to make a living, others have been inspired to take action for their communities.

One Indian businessman has converted his office into an 85-bed facility to provide free treatment for the poor.

"How could poor people afford such treatment?" the property developer told AFP.

"So I decided to do something and contribute in the fight against the deadly virus."

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