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Plea to rule-breakers as virus flares up in Europe

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-16 10:33
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A woman wears a protective mask next to a sign urging to wear face coverings at a store, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, on July 24, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

European nations are reintroducing strict measures aimed at limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus after infections and hospitalizations because of COVID-19 skyrocketed.

As the United Kingdom elevated the alert level for its capital on Thursday, bringing in stricter measures there, Germany, which now has more confirmed cases than at any time since the pandemic began and which confirmed an additional 6,600 on Wednesday, said it too may take tougher action.

The rapidly worsening situation there prompted Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, to warn that restrictions will have to be tightened in hard-hit areas.

But Merkel also appealed to people to follow the rules that are already in place, with a call to young Germans "to do without a few parties now in order to have a good life tomorrow or the day after".

Jens Spahn, Germany's health minister, told the Deutschlandfunk radio station on Thursday that rule-breakers had contributed to the nation's predicament, but he said Germans still have control of their destiny.

"It's important to understand that we are not powerless against this virus," he said. "We can do something, we all can make a difference every day."

Suggestions in Germany that rule-breakers have contributed to the spread of the virus follows widespread reporting in the UK of young people flouting the rules to party in university dormitories, private homes, and city streets.

With Europe now seeing around 100,000 new cases a day, many European nations are joining Germany and the UK in taking drastic steps.

New nighttime curfews have been imposed in parts of France and many nations are considering something similar, as well as the closure of schools and cancelation of non-emergency surgery.

France's President Emmanuel Macron also blamed rule-breakers for the spike in infections in his country, saying new curfews will stop "the parties, the moments of conviviality where there are 50 or 60 people, festive evenings, because, unfortunately, these are vectors for the acceleration of the disease".

The Czech Republic, which has Europe's worst rate of infections per capita, has now ordered its schools to teach students remotely because of the European spike.

Elsewhere, the Republic of Ireland has introduced a ban on people from one household visiting another and Northern Ireland has closed schools for two weeks and restaurants for four.

Poland, which recorded 6,526 infections and 116 deaths on Wednesday, has begun training nurses as it braces for what is likely to be a very difficult winter across the continent.

And Portugal declared a "state of calamity" on Wednesday and has limited gatherings to a maximum of five people after a record 2,072 cases were recorded there in one day.

Italy, which was hit so hard by the first wave of the pandemic, recorded its highest number of infections to date on Wednesday, with 7,332 new cases, prompting Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to urge people to have a "great sense of responsibility".

"We must respect the more restrictive rules now," the Financial Times quoted him as saying.

Europe's 100,000 new cases a day is thought to constitute around one-third of the global total. More than half of Europe's cases are in the UK, France, Russia, and Spain, according to the World Health Organization.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced calls from opposition politicians to impose another full national lockdown in a bid to get to grips with the growing problem but he has so-far opted for a smorgasbord of regional measures dictated by the country's new three-tier warning system.

Liverpool is so far the only UK city to be placed on the strictest set of restrictions and the top, Tier 3, warning level but several other cities and regions are expected to follow in the coming days.

London and the neighboring county of Essex were elevated from Tier 1 to Tier 2 on Thursday, meaning people in those areas are now prohibited from associating indoors with people from other households. People from different households are also banned from mixing in pubs and restaurants.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also moved the city of York to the Tier 2 alert level.

The nation of Wales meanwhile, fearing an exodus of people from hard-hit parts of the UK that have been placed under strict lockdown measures has issues travel bans on arrivals from certain parts of the UK.The BBC said Wales is planning to block entry to people from Northern Ireland, much of Scotland, and English cities and regions on the highest two tiers of the nation's three-tier warning system.

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