Large parts of Europe on Friday geared up for broad new restrictions to stop the coronavirus, after infections worldwide topped 30 million and the World Health Organization warned of “alarming rates of transmission”.
Britain is limiting gatherings and France is set to roll out new curbs for major cities as governments across the continent battle fresh spikes of the disease.
More than 943,000 people have now died from Covid-19 since it first emerged in China late last year, according to an AFP tally, with Europe accounting for more than 200,000.
WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said a surge seen this month “should serve as a wake-up call” after the continent recorded 54,000 infections in a single day last week — a new record.
“Although the numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” Kluge told an online news conference from Copenhagen.
The Spanish capital of Madrid said it had been overwhelmed by the virus and called for “decisive” action from the central government, which is set to unveil a raft of new restrictions Friday.
Madrid officials warned that the region’s healthcare system was coming under increasing pressure, with one in five hospital beds occupied by Covid patients amid a second wave of the illness.
Anxiety has been growing in the city about the prospect of a return to lockdown after a top regional health official on Wednesday raised the possibility for the worst-hit areas.
“It would be bad for shops, for small businesses and little bars that survive on people coming in,” said 55-year-old Maribel Quesada.
“People are really sick of being at home, the (spring) lockdown was very difficult.”
In Britain, new curbs will take effect Friday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that pubs may have to close earlier to help avoid a “second hump” of infections.
About two million people in northeast England, including in the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, will no longer be allowed to meet people outside their homes. Only table service will be allowed in bars and entertainment venues will have to close by 10 pm.
The government already imposed rules across England on Monday limiting socializing to groups of six or fewer, as daily cases reached levels not seen since early May.
French authorities are also preparing tighter restrictions in several cities to curtail a resurgence that has seen nearly 10,000 new cases per day in the past week.
Health minister Olivier Veran said Lyon and Nice would be under new rules by Saturday after curbs on public gatherings were imposed this week in Bordeaux and Marseille. AFP