German, Czech, Italian virus records deepen Europe worries

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Berlin: There has been record number of daily infections in Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy. The daily infections have added to fears Thursday that Europe is running out of chances to control its latest coronavirus outbreak.

France has set a 9.00pm curfew for many of its biggest cities as governments across the continent take increasingly tough action.

New infections have surged across Europe over recent weeks as the fall kicks in. It has prompted authorities in many places to start re-imposing restrictions that were relaxed over the summer. The Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Britain are among the countries causing particular concern.

Germany is the European Union’s (EU) most populous nation. It is still in comparatively good shape. However, alarm bells have started ringing there too. The country’s national disease control centre reported 6,638 new coronavirus infection cases over 24 hours. It is higher than the previous record of nearly 6,300 set in late March.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors agreed Wednesday night to tighten mask-wearing rules. Bars have been asked to close early. Decision has also been taken to limit the number of people who can gather in areas where coronavirus infection rates are high.

Merkel stressed the importance of keeping contact-tracing efforts on track. She said, “We must stop this exponential rise, the quicker the better.”

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Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control centre said that the spread can be repressed. But officials made clear that more efforts may be necessary.

“I think yesterday’s decisions are an important step, but they probably won’t be enough,” Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun said. “So now it is up to the population that we don’t just look at ‘what am I allowed to do now’. Basically we must do more and be more cautious than what the governors decided yesterday.”

Merkel noted that neighbouring countries having to take ‘very drastic measures’. This week has seen the Netherlands close bars and restaurants and the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland close down schools.

The Czech Health Ministry said the country, with a population of over 10 million, confirmed 9,544 new cases Wednesday. This is 900 more than the previous record, set less than a week ago. The government says hospitals could reach full capacity by the end of October.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday night that 18 million residents in nine regions, including Paris, will have a 9.00pm curfew starting Saturday until December 1.

“We won’t go to restaurants after 9.00pm. We won’t see friends. We won’t party, because that’s how to pass on the virus,” Macron said.

Paris restaurant, cinema and theater owners are fuming at the new curfew rules, which effectively shut down evening activities. Tighter local restrictions in northern England and Northern Ireland have prompted the same emotions from business owners there. But health authorities across Europe are expressing urging people to obey the new restrictions.

Italy so far has been spared the worst of the second wave. However Wednesday it also recorded its biggest single-day jump in infections since the start of the pandemic. It added another 7,332 cases amid a resurgence that is threatening to bring Italy’s contact-tracing system to its knees – topping a record set in late March.