Months of foreclosure and isolation across Europe have given way to impromptu games and illicit raves, raising fears of an escalation in the Covid-19 cases and sparking warnings that progress has been made. across the continent in the fight against the pandemic could be wiped out.
In Portugal, the government said on Thursday that it will tighten restrictions on several areas of Greater Lisbon from July 1 to allow residents to leave their homes only for food, healthcare or work, and limit gatherings to five people . The move came after party reports that drew up to 1,000 partygoers.
The country of 10 million people was hailed at the outset as one of Europe’s success stories, with the government’s quick response expected to limit the death toll to 1,549. But in recent weeks, the number of cases has soared, resulting in one of the highest rates in the continent for new cases per 100,000 population.
Parallel to epidemics located in a handful of neighborhoods and industrial centers, social gatherings have proven fertile ground for the virus, with 76 cases linked to a birthday party in the Algarve attended by 100 people earlier this month. and 20 other cases linked to a party organized a few days later at a campsite in the southwest of the country.
After some 1,000 revelers went down to a beach party near Lisbon last weekend, authorities began to crack down on residents of the capital and the surrounding area, banning drinking in public spaces and banning restaurants serve alcohol after 8pm. “After doing everything right, we are not going to spoil it now,” Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa told reporters on Monday.
The World Health Organization said on Thursday that more than 30 European countries had reported an increase in the number of new cases in the past two weeks.
“Last week, Europe saw an increase in the number of weekly cases for the first time in months,” Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe, told reporters on Thursday. He did not identify any of the countries, but added that the situation was particularly serious in 11 countries.
As countries crack down on illicit parties, the task has largely been left to the police. This week, the police sporadically collided with the thousands of people who crowded in the district of the Canal Saint-Martin and the Marais in Paris for the annual Fête de la Musique, while in Berlin, more than 100 police interrupted an event that turned into a spontaneous celebration of 3000 people earlier this month. In Berlin, the police also warned of an increase in illegal raves in city parks.
Guardian analysis this week suggests that the total number of cases increased by 37% last week in Germany, where authorities are struggling to control an epidemic in a slaughterhouse, while France has seen an increase of 12 % of cases compared to last week. .
Warmer weather and easing of restrictions have also fueled rallies in England, where police are struggling with a proliferation of parties, hastily organized on social media and held in underpasses for motorways, parks and industrial areas. Earlier this month, two illegal raves in Greater Manchester drew some 6,000 people.
In hard-hit Spain, which reported its highest number of cases in three weeks on Wednesday, health officials have long warned of the risks of social gatherings.
“An epidemic caused by a small innocent party … a single epidemic could be the start of a new epidemic nationwide,” said Fernando Simón, the health official responsible for the country’s response to the virus, in late May. after a series of cases. in the northeast of the country was linked to an illicit birthday party in which four of the 20 participants were positive.
A few days later, another illegal party made the headlines around the world and saw Spain fined € 10,400 (£ 9,400) to Prince Joachim of Belgium after the king broke the rules of country quarantine to attend a party in the south of Spain. He was then tested positive for the virus.
Spanish authorities are now preparing for the coming months, as the country’s deep-rooted culture of traditional festivals is confronted with the country’s new rules on physical distance. The scale of the challenge was revealed this week after hundreds of people – few of whom wore masks – spontaneously met in the Menorcan city of Ciutadella to mark Sant Joan’s Day despite the cancellation of official celebrations.