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Europe takes steps to fight second wave of infections

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BRUSSELS: A raft of European nations including Italy and Belgium took desperate new measures on Monday to try to combat a second wave of coronavirus infections as the worldwide caseload topped 40 million.

The latest global milestone came just hours after the number of people who have died from Covid-19 passed 250,000 in Europe, according to an AFP tally, as the pandemic rampages across much of the continent.

Many governments are seeking to avoid the full-on lockdowns imposed in the first wave as they battle to keep their economies going but in some countries, people are chafing against the new restrictions on daily life.

In Belgium, where hospitalisation rose 100 per cent in just the last week, bars and restaurants were closed on Monday for a month and a curfew will be reinforced overnight.

Death toll in the continent alone tops 250,000

“Managers, chefs, dish-washers, everyone is suffering,” Angelo Bussi said as he put the key in the lock of his Brussels restaurant late Sunday.

“We don’t feel like anyone cares. It breaks my heart,” he told AFP before shrugging and walking off into the night. “Ah, well there we are, see you in a month.”

Belgium’s second major lockdown comes after Prime Minister Alexander de Croo warned the situation was “much worse” than in March when there was an almost complete confinement.

Italy, the initial epicentre of Europe’s outbreak, also announced fresh curbs including earlier closures for bars and restaurants and a push to increase working from home.

“We cannot waste time,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, also flagging bans on amateur team sports and local festivals.

In Poland, where around half the country is now designated as a coronavirus “red zone”, the government said the national stadium would be turned into a field hospital to help ease the strain on overwhelmed health care facilities.

Mask-wearing compulsory

Switzerland meanwhile made mask-wearing compulsory in indoor public spaces and put limits on public gatherings after infections doubled over the last week.

“The second wave is here, earlier and stronger than we expected, but we are prepared,” Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said.

France imposed its own overnight curfew from the weekend in nine cities including Paris, affecting 20 million people, with a record 32,400 new infections reported on Saturday.

While European nations imposed new restrictions, a lockdown was eased in Australia’s second-biggest city of Melbourne on Monday, as residents flocked to reopened hair salons and golf courses that had been closed for more than 100 days.

The number of daily cases rose to 700 in August in the state of Victoria of which Melbourne is the capital, but following months of a strict lockdown it has fallen as low as one, with four recorded on Monday.

Melbourne hair salon owner Daniel Choi said he was suddenly fully booked until December.

“From yesterday, there are so many messages for me: `I want a haircut’. They want to change their style,” he told AFP.

While Melbourne’s five million inhabitants were allowed to leave their homes for more than two hours a day for the first time since July, restaurants and most other retail businesses will remain shut until at least November.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2020

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