Europe

Europeans face slew of tighter restrictions amid soaring cases

PARIS (AFP, BLOOMBERG) – Millions of Europeans faced tough new Covid-19 restrictions on Saturday (Oct 17) as governments try to combat spiralling infections.

Paris and other French cities are under a nighttime curfew that will last for at least a month, while England is banning mixed household gatherings in the capital and other areas. Italy, meanwhile, is contemplating imposing the tightest rules on non-essential activities since its national lockdown half a year ago.

In France, about 20 million people in Paris and several other French cities were facing the start of a 9pm-6am curfew after the country on Thursday saw a new high of 30,000 cases in 24 hours.

The move – which will last at least a month – has broad public support, but officials are fretting over the heavy social and economic costs it will bring.

“It’s terrible. It feels to me like being back in March,” said Mr Hocine Saal, head of the emergency service at the hospital in the Paris suburb of Montreuil, adding that rising numbers of non-coronavirus patients made coping “really difficult”.

In Britain, which has Europe’s highest death toll at more than 43,000, restrictions are being ramped up with bans on indoor meetings between members of different households in London and several other English cities.

Those zones are in the second of a three-tier alert system, while some areas – notably in the north-west – have been placed on the highest level. About 28 million people – half of England’s population – are now subject to tight social restrictions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that local restriction policies designed to spare battered economies from a new full-scale lockdown cannot be “pain free”.

In Italy, the government is mulling over the tightest curbs on non-essential activities since its national lockdown, to contain soaring new infections that topped 10,000 for the first time on Friday.

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Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza met regional leaders on Saturday morning to discuss the measures that are expected to be approved by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government soon, according to government officials.

Mr Speranza said businesses that come under the ban will receive some compensation. Mr Conte’s plan, like Britain’s, is also aimed at avoiding a new lockdown and reducing its economic impact.

The government may also order bars and restaurants to close at 10pm, banning some sporting activities and changing hours for high schools to prevent congestion.

The Lombardy region had already approved new restrictions on Friday.

Over in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens to stay at home whenever possible after 7,830 cases emerged over 24 hours.

“Say no to the trip which isn’t really necessary, to a celebration that isn’t really necessary. Please stay at home as much as possible,” Dr Merkel said in her weekly podcast address. “What will determine winter and our Christmas will be decided in the weeks ahead” by how people react now, she added.

Elsewhere in Europe, Poland, the Czech Republic and Belgium all announced daily record caseloads.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and Belgium’s Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes became the two latest politicians to test positive for Covid-19.

“Contamination probably occurred within my family circle given the precautions taken outside my home,” Ms Wilmes tweeted.

Both Mr Schallenberg and Ms Wilmes had on Oct 12 attended face-to-face talks with European Union counterparts at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg.

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