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WHO warns that 1st wave of pandemic not over; dampens hopes

BANGKOK — As Brazil and India struggle with surging coronavirus cases, a top health specialist is warning that the world is still smack in the middle of the pandemic, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.

“Right now, we’re not in the second wave. We’re right in the middle of the first wave globally,’’ said Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s executive director.

“We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” Ryan told reporters, pointing to South America, South Asia, and other areas where infections are still on the rise.

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India saw a record single-day jump in new cases for the seventh-straight day. It reported 6,535 new infections Tuesday, raising its total to 145,380, including 4,167 deaths.

The virus has taken hold in some of India’s poorest, most densely populated areas, underscoring the challenges that authorities face in curbing the spread of a virus for which a vaccine or cure isn’t yet in sight.

Most of India’s cases are concentrated in the western states of Maharashtra, home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and Gujarat. Infections have also climbed in the east as migrant workers stranded by lockdowns returned to their native villages from India’s largest cities.

Despite this, India allowed domestic flights to resume Monday following a two-month hiatus, but at a fraction of normal traffic levels.

The WHO poured cold water on the hopes of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and others of quickly reopening the economy, warning that authorities must first have enough testing in place to control the spread of the pandemic. Brazil has 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.6 million cases in the United States — and has counted more than 23,000 deaths, but many fear Brazil’s true toll is much higher.

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Ryan said Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the negative impact on its economy. “You must continue to do everything you can,” he said.

But Sao Paulo Governor João Doria has ruled out a full lockdown in Brazil’s largest state economy and plans to start loosening restrictions on June 1.

In Rio de Janeiro, Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical bishop, designated religious institutions as “essential services’’ so they could stay open with social distancing rules despite recommendations for people to stay at home and most businesses remaining shut.

A US travel ban was taking effect Tuesday for foreigners coming from Brazil, moved up two days earlier than its original date. It does not apply to US citizens.

In Europe, the Russian government reported a record daily spike Tuesday of 174 deaths, bringing the country’s confirmed death toll to 3,807. Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 360,000 — the third-highest in the world — with almost 9,000 new infections registered.

The question of who can travel where and when remains a dilemma that officials still have yet to solve.

Spain’s foreign minister said Tuesday that European Union members should commonly agree to open borders and jointly determine which non-EU countries are designated as safe for travel.