Spain – the first European country to surpass one million confirmed cases of COVID-19 – declared a state of emergency on Sunday which included a nationwide overnight curfew, a six-person cap for social gatherings and possible travel bans in and out of the hardest-hit regions.
The effect was clear on Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas promenade, which was deserted on Sunday evening when it would normally have been teeming with people.
In two large Italian cities, people took to the streets as small sections of society were pushed to new restrictions. Protesters in Naples protested a locally imposed curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Friday and clashed with police. On Saturday evening, far-right and neo-fascist groups led a similar protest in Rome against a curfew. Another demonstration is scheduled for Tuesday in Milan.
Dr Jean-François Delfraissy, chairman of the scientific council which advises the French government on the virus, said the country is in a “very difficult, even critical situation”.
“There are probably over 50,000 new cases every day. Our estimate at the Scientific Council is closer to 100,000 – twice as much, ”Dr Delfraissy told RTL radio. “Between those who are not tested and asymptomatic patients, we are close to this number of cases. This means that the virus is spreading extremely quickly. “
France declared a state of emergency earlier this month and has imposed more and more restrictions since September in an attempt to ease pressure on French hospitals, where COVID-19 patients occupy more than half of all beds in ICU.
Dr Eric Caumes, head of the infections and tropical diseases department at Pitié-Salpétrière hospital in Paris, said the country had to lock down again.
“We have lost control of the epidemic but it is not new,” he said on the Franceinfo channel. “We lost control of the epidemic several weeks ago. “
The confirmed death toll in Europe has exceeded 250,000 according to a count from Johns Hopkins University, which brings the global death toll to more than 1.1 million.
Italy, the first country in the West to come under fire from COVID-19, took new steps over the weekend to try to curb the new outbreak, ordering restaurants and bars to close at 6 p.m. and shutting down gymnasiums, swimming pools and cinemas.
The measures, which went into effect on Monday, also force high schools to upgrade to at least 75% distance learning while letting younger students stay in classrooms. Indoor and outdoor gatherings, including those for religious reasons, are prohibited, and the government strongly recommends that people avoid having guests at home and traveling within the country except for work, health or other necessities.
The owner of the Milanese trattoria, Giuseppe Di Terlizzi, fears the worst as he is forced to close in the evening after already losing customers at lunchtime because many people work from home.
“We have high costs and almost zero revenues,” he said on Sunday. “So it will be a disaster, if they do not help us, it will be the death of the catering in Milan. “
Italy records around 20,000 new confirmed infections per day, and health authorities have warned that some hospital departments with COVID-19 risk reaching saturation point within the next week or two.
UK authorities are likely to tighten restrictions on more parts of the country this week, amid mixed signs whether measures introduced in recent weeks have stemmed a sharp rise in infections.
Government science advisers say there are signs that the increase has started to level off since a three-tier system of restrictions went into effect, but it is too early to be certain.
Much of northern England, including the major cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, was placed in the first “very high” risk level, with pubs closed and people from different households banned from mixing.
Legislators of Czech republic, which has been one of the countries hardest hit by the resurgence of the pandemic in Europe, is set to approve this week a government plan to recruit up to 300 military health workers from NATO countries and of the EU to help deal with the influx of patients.
They will help their Czech colleagues at the military hospital in Prague and at a field hospital for 500 patients that the armed forces completed this weekend at the Prague exhibition grounds. The first batch of 28 US National Guard medics are expected to arrive later this week.
Authorities also said they were canceling major Prague Christmas markets because of the virus.
Croatia, where the tourism minister tested positive over the weekend, is seeking help closer to home, urging retired doctors and medical students to join the fight against the virus. Authorities are also preparing the main indoor arena in the capital, Zagreb, as a potential COVID-19 makeshift hospital as hospitals fill up with new coronavirus patients.
In Germany, the growing number of coronaviruses prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party on Monday to delay for the second time a decision on who will become its new leader – a decision that had already been pushed by the pandemic from spring to December.
Anyone who wins the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union will be in a position to become the center-right candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in a German election slated for next fall, although this is not guaranteed.
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