Spain’s capital rejects lockdown as Europe grapples with virus outbreak

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Madrid (AFP)

Madrid’s highest court on Thursday overturned virus restrictions on millions of people in the Spanish capital, as European governments fight to control a sustained rise in virus cases.

As citizens across France and Belgium face closed bars and cafes, countries like Austria and Poland are toughening their rules on wearing masks and other measures.

Records for the number of daily infections are collapsing across the continent, even in Germany – widely hailed for its handling of the crisis – which has recorded more than 4,000 new cases a day for the first time since April.

“It is possible that the virus is spreading uncontrollably,” said Lothar Wieler, director of the German Robert Koch Institute for Disease Control.

Spain’s antivirus strategy was confused on Thursday when judges refused to approve a lockdown order, arguing that the central health ministry had acted beyond its powers in imposing the measures because the health policy is devolved to local governments.

Authorities were quick to get back on track, imploring residents not to leave town despite the court ruling, but police have no legal grounds to impose fines for non-compliance and the order is in fact zero.

– Young ‘party people’ –

The usual cut to political campaigning in the United States has already been wiped out of this year’s presidential race thanks to the coronavirus – no fight bus or baby-kiss for President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden .

The two managed to host a televised debate, but organizers insisted the second take place online after Trump tested positive and hospitalized for Covid-19.

While Biden has said he looks forward to “speaking directly to the American people,” Trump accused organizers of trying to protect his rival. “I’m not going to have a virtual debate,” he said Thursday.

The disease has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States, the country most affected.

Both contenders are over 70, which puts them in a high risk category.

At the other end of the age scale, the German Minister of Health has sought to explain the upsurge in cases in his country by pointing the finger at young people.

They “party, travel, think they are invincible,” said Jens Spahn, “but they are not”. He urged young people to think about the potential harm they are causing to older parents.

The rise in the number of cases in Germany coincided with the autumn school holidays in many parts of Germany, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to call on citizens to avoid traveling abroad.

– Pubs closed –

The Spanish court’s intervention adds another layer of complexity to the already delicate task of judging the severity and duration of the restrictions and lockdowns, which have plagued the global economy.

The IMF joined the debate on Thursday, warning that lifting the restrictions does not guarantee an economic rebound and that the voluntary measures could be just as damaging to the economy as the restrictions imposed.

No European country has yet taken the plunge into a second nationwide lockdown, with most governments choosing instead to impose local restrictions or target particular sectors.

Crowded bars and cafes in Brussels, the Belgian capital, have been ordered to close for a month to revert to stricter protocols imposed at the height of the epidemic in March and April.

In neighboring France, authorities were to apply stricter restrictions in several large cities, two days after the entry into force of a maximum alert protocol in Paris.

Bars and restaurants in the French capital were ordered to close Tuesday for two weeks, as the daily tally of new cases stood at around 20,000.

Scotland on Wednesday imposed a two-week ban on pubs in its main cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, increasing pressure on the British government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take similar steps in England.

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