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Europe surges past 250,000 virus deaths as Israel lifts lockdown

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PARIS: Europe passed the milestone of 250,000 deaths from coronavirus on Sunday, as Israel and Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne began to gradually ease their strict lockdowns.

European nations have ratcheted up restrictions on daily life to tackle soaring infections, with a 44 percent increase in cases this week.

Night-time curfews on millions came into force in France this weekend and Switzerland required all its citizens to wear masks in indoor public places.

But Israel has managed to flatten its outbreak through draconian measures including a ban on travelling more than a kilometre from home.

The government lifted that restriction on Sunday and reopened kindergartens, beaches and national parks.

Israeli mother Talia Zinkin said she was initially unsure whether to send her son back to daycare. “But I felt he would enjoy being with other children,” she said. “We have to try to live normally.” Likewise, Melbourne has managed to control its upsurge in cases and officials were able to allow the city’s five million inhabitants to leave their homes for more than two hours a day for the first time in three months.

While people will be allowed to travel up to 25 kilometres (15 miles) from home if they have valid reasons, restaurants and other businesses in Melbourne will remain closed.

These few signs of local success in lowering transmission of the virus bucked the global trend, with cases soaring beyond levels seen in the earlier this year.

Europe’s death toll makes it the second hardest hit region after Latin America and the Caribbean, where fatalities have surpassed 350,000.

The United Kingdom remains Europe’s worst-affected country in terms of deaths, accounting for almost one-fifth of fatalities on the continent.

The British government continues to struggle to combat the virus, with local officials resisting attempts by ministers to impose restrictions by region.

France, which counted more than 32,000 new cases on Saturday, has introduced a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am for at least a month in nine cities including Paris, affecting 20 million people.

At 10 pm on Saturday, the streets of the City of Light were eerily empty apart from a few stragglers risking a 135 euro ($158) fine unless they can provide a certificate to show they have good reason to be out and about.

“I’m coming back from the hospital… where my daughter is being operated on. They gave me this proof,” one man tells a group of police officers, showing them a one-page document.

The measures fall short of the blanket confinements imposed in many countries earlier in the year — but raise fears of new, severe restrictions across the continent.

The Swiss government said Sunday it would enforce mask-wearing in all indoor public spaces from Monday and forbid gatherings of more than 15 people, among other restrictions.

Some were not happy about the new rules, with several hundred people staging a demonstration outside the government’s Federal Palace in Bern.

Across the border in Italy, the government said it would earmark an additional 39 billion euros ($45 billion) to tackle the coronavirus crisis and support its economy, the third largest in the eurozone.

Governments are now mindful of declaring victory too early — Israel suffered one of the highest rates of infection in the world after quickly lifting an earlier lockdown.

“This time we are moving cautiously,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.Two weeks ago, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had declared her country had beaten the virus again — but a new community case of Covid-19 has now been confirmed, punching a hole in her assertion.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2020

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