South Africa re-imposed a nationwide curfew on Sunday while Spain's Catalonia region forced hundreds of thousands of residents back into lockdown as coronavirus cases accelerated in many parts of the world.

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 an AFP tally.

Coronavirus testing
The WHO says aggressive control measures can rein in the spread of the coronavirus Photo: AFP / Sakis MITROLIDIS

In just a month-and-a-half the number of cases worldwide has doubled, according to the count based on official figures.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country faced a "coronavirus storm" that was "far fiercer and more destructive than any we have known before" as he re-imposed a night-time curfew and also a ban on alcohol sales lifted barely six weeks ago.

US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump has pushed to hold large gatherings against health advice Photo: AFP / SAUL LOEB

"As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries," Ramaphosa said.

New coronavirus infections have topped 12,000 per day -- or 500 per hour -- in South Africa in recent days, making it the fourth-biggest contributor to new worldwide cases after the United States, Brazil and India.

Usually-bustling parts of Melbourne are deserted amid a lockdown in the city Photo: AFP / William WEST

The government of Spain's Catalonia region on Sunday told residents in and around the northeastern town of Lerida to go back into home confinement.

Disney World Florida
Hundreds queued to get into Disney World in Florida Photo: Gregg Newton / Gregg Newton

"The people must stay at home," regional health official Alba Verges said.

The area, with a population of more than 200,000, had already been isolated from the rest of the region last weekend.

US President Donald Trump meanwhile wore a face mask in public for the first time, during a Saturday visit to wounded veterans in a hospital outside Washington.

Spread of Coronavirus
Spread of coronavirus Photo: AFP / Simon MALFATTO

Surveys show most Americans are unhappy with how Trump, who is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the November election, has handled the public health crisis.

The United States is the world's worst-hit country with 135,171 deaths from 3,301,820 cases.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates warns against vaccines, drugs "going to highest bidder" Photo: IAS /

Despite the resurgent infections, the Trump administration is pressing for full reopening of schools, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos warning that "families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely."

London-based charity Save the Children warned that the pandemic has caused an "unprecedented education emergency" with up to 9.7 million children affected by school closures at risk of never going back to class.

Across the planet, the pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people, killed over 566,000 and triggered massive economic damage in the seven months since it was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

South Africa
South Africa is in the middle of a 'coronavirus storm' Photo: AFP / MARCO LONGARI

Mexico became the country with the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 fatalities in the world on Sunday, climbing to a total of 35,006 deaths and surpassing Italy.

The latest-high profile personality to test positive for COVID-19 was Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai.

Despite Sunday's lockdown move in Spain, life in parts of Europe has been returning to some semblance of normality, although the continent remains the worst affected with more than 202,000 deaths from over 2.8 million cases.

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

The tourism industry across Europe has been battered, with many businesses forced to shut because of the impact of punishing lockdowns.

"Everything's dead," said Jesus Maldonado, owner of the Santos Bar just across from the Mesquite, the mosque-cathedral in the Spanish city of Cordoba.

In neighbouring 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.

The French government said it plans to introduce systematic testing at airports for visitors from so-called category "red" countries where COVID-19 is still prevalent.

In Paris, demonstrating nightclub workers demanded a reopening of their venues, arguing that strictly-controlled club visits would be safer than unregulated beach parties.

Across the border in Germany, Berlin offered financial help for the city's famous nightclubs which have remained shut for four months.

In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the situation was "truly tragic" and urged all citizens to help stem what has been the Middle East's deadliest outbreak.

There is little chance of a 100-percent effective coronavirus vaccine by next year, a French expert meanwhile warned Sunday.

"Of course, there is an unprecedented effort to develop a vaccine, but I would be very surprised if we had one that was effective in 2021," epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet said.

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