PARIS (AFP) – More countries tightened anti-coronavirus measures on Saturday (Oct 24), with France extending a curfew and Belgium bringing forward its own curbs as new infections surged in many parts of the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of an “exponential” rise in infections threatening health systems’ ability to cope with a second wave of cases, testing many nations that appeared to have the virus under control earlier this year.
Governments are now struggling to balance new restrictions against the need to revive economies already battered by earlier draconian lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
But populations weary of social isolation and economic hardship have bristled at new restrictions.
Europe has seen a spike in new infections and taken a raft of new measures, mostly trying to avoid new nationwide lockdowns – from night-time curfews to more restrictions on social gatherings.
After Germany recorded its 10,000th coronavirus death, Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The order of the day is to reduce contacts, (and) to meet as few people as possible.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Saturday that he had become the latest public figure to test positive for coronavirus as the EU country faces record infection rates.
Mr Duda, 48, said in a tweet that he had tested positive but “felt fine” and was still on the job.
Spain became the first European country earlier this week to officially record a million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
People across the country were bracing for a national state of emergency, overnight curfews and other new containment measures.
“They probably should have done this a long time ago or taken other steps, like restricting the number of people taking public transport or going to work,” 22-year-old student Patricia Vazquez told AFP in the capital Madrid.
Colombia became the latest country to record a million confirmed Covid-19 cases on Saturday, as France recorded a 24-hour record of more than 45,000 infections a day after passing the same milestone.
The French government extended an overnight curfew to cover areas home to around 46 million people – two out of every three French.
“The difference compared to the first wave is that now we also have all the chronic pathologies of the winter period to take care of,” emergency doctor Agnes Ricard-Hibon told local television.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Saturday that another €700 million (S$1.13 billion) would be made available to help poor people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
On Friday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that “too many countries are seeing an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases and that is now leading to hospitals and intensive care units running close to or above capacity.”
“We urge leaders to take immediate action to prevent further unnecessary deaths,” he said.
Across the planet, the pandemic has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people and infected more than 42 million, with the WHO warning the northern hemisphere was at an especially critical juncture.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 224,000 deaths, followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.
In the US, the virus has become a central issue ahead of a Nov 3 presidential election, with President Donald Trump sparring over his handling of the pandemic with challenger Joe Biden.
“The idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this thing up is nonsense,” said Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, who hit the campaign trail on Saturday to campaign for Mr Biden, his former deputy.
The WHO’s message for nations to do more was echoed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), but moves to reintroduce restrictions were met with protest in parts of the continent.
In Naples, hundreds of demonstrators answered a call on social media to resist a new curfew, throwing objects at police and setting rubbish bins on fire.
The country is reeling from its worst post-war recession after a two-month national lockdown prompted by one of Europe’s worst outbreaks, and the authorities have been reluctant to renew drastic quarantine restrictions.
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