Europe struggles to contain surge of coronavirus cases

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Rise in infection rate in Paris as Spanish authorities clash over Madrid lockdown

Jon Henley, Europe correspondent, Kim Willsher in Paris and Sam Jones in Madrid –  The Guardian

Bars in Paris have been ordered to close for two weeks, Madrid residents may no longer leave their city and Ireland is set to introduce tighter national restrictions as governments struggle to contain a Europe-wide surge in Covid-19 cases.

As infections in the Paris area rose to 270 for every 100,000 people – and as high as 500 for every 100,000 among 20- to 30-year-olds – with 36% of intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, the city’s police chief said bars must close from Tuesday.

Outlining measures he described as a “balance between assuring the health of our fellow citizens and the reality and necessity of economic and social life”, Didier Lallement said the French capital and its surrounding Île-de-France region were necessary because “the epidemic is moving too fast”.

Restaurants, defined as establishments “whose main activity is serving food”, can continue to open as long as they observe new rules, he said. These include gel sanitiser on all tables, limiting customers to six to a table with a metre between seats, allowing them to remove masks only to eat, and recording their names and contact details.

France reported nearly 17,000 new cases on Saturday, the highest daily number since widespread testing began. Aurélien Rousseau, director of the regional health agency, said that figure included an average 3,500 new cases every day in and around Paris.

Of more than 200 new regional clusters, Rousseau said about 40% emerged from schools and universities, 26% from workplaces and 10% from private gatherings. The region’s residents should return to home working as much as possible, he said.

Among other measures, all in force for at least two weeks, gyms and pools will remain closed to adults, public gatherings will be limited to 10 people, and there will be a maximum of 1,000 people allowed in open-air stadiums for sporting or cultural events.

Cinemas, theatres and student lecture halls are restricted to half their normal capacity, visits to people in care homes may continue but only by appointment and limited to two visitors at a time, and alcohol sales after 10pm and wedding and other parties in reception halls remain banned.

In Spain, authorities in the north-western region of Castilla y León said the cities of Palencia and León would follow the capital, Madrid, and nine nearby municipalities into partial lockdown for a fortnight from Tuesday, meaning people can only enter or exit the areas for work or on medical grounds.

In the capital, the limited lockdown has led to a clash between the regional and central authorities. Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government imposed the measures after the conservative-led regional government of Madrid voted against them, claiming it had the situation under control.

Although the administration of the Madrid president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has said it will obey the lockdown, it is appealing against the central government’s decision in court. To date, Spain has logged 813,412 cases of Covid-19 – more than a quarter of them in the Madrid region, which also accounts for almost a third of the country’s 32,225 deaths.

Ireland’s government, meanwhile, was reported to have decided against a new nationwide lockdown after the national public health emergency team on Sunday recommended the country move to the highest level of restrictions, mirroring those of the original lockdown in March.

The Irish Times said coalition government leaders had met the chief medical officer but would not be moving the country to Level 5, which would have seen household visits and social and family gatherings banned and only essential retail shops left open. Instead, the country would move to “Level 3 with added measures”.

Museums and some other cultural venues are likely to close, restaurants and pubs face added restrictions, and people will be asked to stay in their region and to keep the number of people they meet to a minimum.

Russia, which has the fourth-highest number of cases worldwide, recorded a rise in cases on Monday close to its May record, but has so far stopped short of reimposing strict lockdown measures. The government confirmed 10,888 new infections, approaching the 11,656 recorded on 11 May.

More than 3,500 were in the capital, Moscow, where the mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has told those over-65 to stay at home and ordered companies to have at least 30% of staff working from home from Monday. The Kremlin said it was aware of no immediate plans to impose a second lockdown.

In Brussels, the president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, 62, said she would self-isolate for a day after learning she had met someone infected with Covid-19 last week. The European council president, Charles Michel, had to follow the same procedure and postpone a leaders’ summit for a week earlier this year.

Beyond Europe, Iran registered a record high 3,902 new cases in the past 24 hours, with the total number of identified cases in the worst-hit country in the Middle East rising to 475,674, according to state TV, while 235 patients died.

In the US, the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, asked the state for permission to close schools and reinstate restrictions on non-essential businesses in several neighbourhoods after a resurgence of the virus.

If approved, about 300 schools would close from Wednesday, de Blasio said. Indoor dining – which resumed just a few days ago – would be suspended, and gyms would close, marking a disheartening retreat for a city that enjoyed a summer with less spread of the virus than most other parts of the US.

“We’ve learned over and over from this disease that it is important to act aggressively, and when the data tells us it’s time for even the toughest and most rigorous actions we follow the data, we follow the science,” he said.

 

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