Several countries in Europe on Wednesday announced plans to tighten restrictions amid growing alarm that the region is losing control of the coronavirus pandemic.
France, Belgium, Germany, Scotland and Italy announced rising Covid-19 infections and made plans to limit gatherings and trading hours in some sectors.
French authorities reported its second daily record of new Covid-19 infections in five days, with almost 19,000 additional cases over 24 hours, while hospitalisations for the disease stood at a three-month high. French health authorities said there were 18,746 extra cases, versus a previous record on October 3 of 16,972, and also sharply up from Tuesday’s tally of 10,489. The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic in March now stands at 653,509, the world’s 10th highest.
French President Emmanuel Macron flagged new restrictions to contain the pandemic, which come on top of measures already put in place by the government, such as bars being ordered to close at 10pm in major cities including Paris. The new restrictions would be announced on Thursday, said the health ministry.
Belgium will tighten coronavirus restrictions at the end of the week, limiting groups to a maximum of four people in a bid to stem a sharp rise of Covid-19 infections.
New Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, who took office five days ago, told a news conference he was aware Belgians were tired of restrictions, but they had to stick to the rules to avoid a fresh lockdown.
Covid-19 has claimed 10,078 lives in the country of 11-million people, producing one of the highest per capita fatality rates in the world. The average daily number of new infections over a week passed 2,300 on Tuesday. Hospital admissions are also rising.
Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said no more than four people should be invited inside people’s homes, be seated at a single bar table or gather outside. Bars will all have to close at 11pm.
Germany is also fighting against a surge in infections and will close bars at 11pm, starting on Saturday. The German capital has the worst outbreak among the country’s 16 states, with 40.5 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, according to the country’s public health authority. The city’s residents would be restricted from domestic travel if the figure rises above 50 — some districts already exceed this threshold.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and state leaders reaffirmed the rules during a conference call on Wednesday.
Across the border from Europe’s largest economy, the Czech Republic posted a record 4,457 new cases on Tuesday. The government will announce “more significant” measures to stem the outbreak at the end of the week, health minister Roman Prymula said Wednesday, reaffirming a pledge not to impose another full-scale nationwide lockdown.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told parliament on Wednesday all pubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh will have to close for 16 days from Friday under the latest wave of Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland, a move one trade body called a “total catastrophe”.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Scotland has been accelerating since mid-September, with 1,054 new cases reported on Wednesday, driven by infections in the central belt, which includes Glasgow and Edinburgh.
“While the measures I announce today will feel like a backward step … they are in the interests of protecting our progress overall,” Sturgeon said. Beyond the central belt, pubs, restaurants and cafes will not be able to serve alcohol indoors, and can only serve food and nonalcoholic drinks between 6am and 6pm for the 16-day period.
In Italy, the virus twice prevented parliamentary votes earlier this week on new measures to combat the pandemic, as a number of legislators are in quarantine.
A cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended emergency powers to counter the pandemic to January 31. The government again made wearing face masks outdoors compulsory nationwide and made testing for Covid-19 compulsory for people travelling from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic.
Elsewhere, Brazil approached the mark of 5-million confirmed Covid-19 cases on Wednesday as it approached 150,000 deaths, in the second most deathly coronavirus outbreak outside the US.
Though the number of cases has come down from a peak in July, public health experts warn that Brazil is ignoring social distancing precautions and faces the danger of a second wave by returning to normal everyday life too quickly.
The health ministry reported on Tuesday 41,906 new cases, raising the total to 4,969,141, and 819 death, bringing the toll to 147,494 dead.