France on Wednesday became the latest European country to toughen anti-coronavirus measures, imposing a curfew in Paris and eight other cities from Saturday, while Germany and Ireland also ramped up restrictions.
“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” President Emmanuel Macron told public television, announcing a shutdown between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am that will remain in force for as long as six weeks.
Other major French cities such as Lyon, Mediterranean port Marseille and southwestern Toulouse will similarly impose curfews, with around 20 million people affected in all, out of a total population of some 67 million.
Just minutes before Macron’s announcement, his government had said it would prolong a state of health emergency.
With over one million coronavirus deaths and nearly 40 million cases worldwide, regions like Europe that suppressed the first outbreak are again facing tough choices on how to control a new wave without the economic devastation wrought by nationwide lockdowns.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced tougher measures on gatherings and mask-wearing.
“I am convinced that what we do now will be decisive for how we come through this pandemic,” the leader said.
New infections in Germany continued to rise Wednesday, pushing past 5,000 cases in 24 hours — a level not seen since a lockdown imposed on Europe’s biggest economy in the spring.
“We’re in a situation where I think we can still flatten the exponential growth,” Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s disease control agency said. “But for that we all need to make an effort.”
– Worsening situation –
In Spain, bars and restaurants will close across the northeastern region of Catalonia for the next 15 days as the country tackles one of the highest rates of infection in the European Union, with nearly 900,000 cases and more than 33,000 deaths.
Measures also came into force across the Netherlands, including restrictions on alcohol sales and new mask requirements, while Northern Ireland announced a four-week closure of pubs and restaurants.
Ireland’s prime minister Micheal Martin announced a raft of new curbs along the border with the British province of Northern Ireland, including the closure of non-essential retail outlets, gyms, pools and leisure centres.
Earlier on Wednesday Northern Ireland’s devolved government announced plans to shut pubs and restaurants for four weeks, tighten restrictions on social gatherings and extend the mid-term school break to counter soaring case numbers there.
Infection rates “must be turned down now or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed,” First Minister Arlene Foster told lawmakers in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
– Lockdown ‘disaster’ –
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also under increasing pressure to impose more stringent measures to cut spiralling rates in England, including a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown.
Johnson said a new UK-wide lockdown would be a “disaster” but refused to rule it out as the government’s science advisory committee endorsed a temporary shutdown.
And in Italy, authorities recorded 7,332 new cases on Wednesday — the highest daily count the hard-hit country has yet seen.
Rome has already imposed new, tougher rules to control the virus’ resurgence, including an end to parties, amateur football matches and snacking at bars at night.
Beyond Europe, Iran on Wednesday announced new travel restrictions affecting the capital Tehran and four other major cities, as well as new single-day records in both Covid-19 deaths and new infections.
And neighbouring Iraq’s death toll since the start of the pandemic passed 10,000 people.
At least 1,089,039 people worldwide have died of the coronavirus since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late in 2019, according to an AFP tally using official figures. At least 38.3 million cases have been recorded around the world.
In online talks, G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed to extend a moratorium on debt repayments by the world’s poorest countries for a further six months and trailed another prolongation in spring.
The virtual talks, hosted by current G20 president Saudi Arabia, came a day after the International Monetary Fund warned that global GDP would contract 4.4 percent in 2020 and the damage inflicted by the pandemic would be felt for years.
– Drug setbacks –
As Europe imposed new restrictions, hopes for vaccines or treatment to provide relief suffered a blow with the suspension of two clinical trials in the United States.
US pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly said it had suspended the Phase 3 trial of its antibody treatment over an unspecified incident, the second in less than 24 hours after Johnson & Johnson ran into a similar problem with its vaccine candidate.
Despite the setbacks, which health experts say is normal as testing scales up massively in its later stages, the World Bank approved $12 billion for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of vaccines, tests and treatment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had registered a second vaccine dubbed “EpiVacCorona”, developed by a top-secret Siberian laboratory, to follow its first “Sputnik” jab.