Coronavirus: Italy tightens curbs as Europe braces for second wave
Restrictive measures returning as rising infection rate threatens continent’s economic recovery
Italy tightened restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus on Monday as rising infection rates across Europe sparked fears of a second wave on the continent.
In an effort to suppress a surge in new cases blamed on young people out socialising, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza ordered nightclubs to close for three weeks and signed a decree requiring masks be worn in public places throughout the night.
The decision coincides with the Ferragosto weekend, a major holiday when Italians descend on the country’s beaches.
Local newspapers have splashed images of throngs of young holidaymakers celebrating at open-air discos in recent days as health authorities have increasingly voiced worries over the possible spread of infections.
Some regions, such as Calabria in the south, had already ordered all dance venues shut while others including Sardinia have kept them open.
Tourists arriving in Rome from Greece, Spain, Croatia and Malta are now being tested for the virus on entry.
Italy, which put in place Europe’s first nationwide lockdown as the virus spread across the continent, has now recorded more than 254,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 35,000 deaths.
Europe scrambles to fight surging infection rates
Across Europe, governments are moving to counter climbing infection rates.
France on Sunday recorded the highest daily number of new infections since May with about 3,300 new cases of the virus being identified across the country.
The French government has announced plans to tighten its restrictions to keep the outbreak under control, which include increasing social distancing in offices and encouraging people to work from home where possible.
Paris and Marseille, the country’s two largest cities, have both been identified as areas with an “active circulation of the virus” and the government is under pressure to make masks mandatory in all public spaces.
The rate of infection has jumped significantly in Spain, where local authorities say they are battling more than 600 “active outbreaks”.
As in Italy, the authorities have shut the country’s nightclubs in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Spain has identified 342,813 cases of Covid-19, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the highest number in Western Europe.
In Germany, which last week recorded its highest total of new infections in more than three months, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz proposed extending job-preserving subsidy schemes to 24 months.
Mr Scholtz said the measure to shield workers and companies from massive job cuts during the pandemic could cost Germany’s government €10 billion (Dh43.45bn) in a sign that the recent sharp rise in cases could lead to renewed restrictions on economic activity.
And in Greece, where health authorities last week declared a second wave had already arrived, coronavirus cases topped 7,000.
Around one third of Greece’s cases have been reported since August 1.
Resistance to restrictions spreading
Even as case numbers rose, conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination activists continued to make their case against the restrictive measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus.
More than 200 people rallied in Brussels on Sunday against a new requirement for face masks to be worn in public.
Mask-wearing was brought in last week for 1.2 million people living in the Brussels region as Belgium battled one of the most serious coronavirus outbreaks in Europe.
Many of the protesters did not wear masks, but carried placards saying "Corona circus" or "It's my body, it's my choice".
"It is not the virologists and doctors who are going to dictate the rules in our country," a protester who gave his name only as Michel told Agence France Presse. "We are being treated as children."
One protester wore an orange life jacket with the words, "Ready for the second wave", while another had written on his shirt, "No to this masquerade".
Belgium has the highest per capita death rate from Covid-19 in the world and infections are rising again after earlier success in bringing the disease under control.
The number of cases in the country of about 11.5 million people neared 78,000 on Sunday. Close to 10,000 deaths have been registered.
Updated: August 17, 2020 08:40 PM