France, Portugal and Romania became the latest European countries — after the Netherlands and Italy — to impose tougher restrictions on Wednesday as a coronavirus resurgence continues to sweep across the continent.
France will introduce a night-time curfew in major cities and re-impose a state of health emergency. Portugal returns to a “state of calamity”. Romania extends a state of alert for the fifth time. In addition, Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom sets out a range of restrictive measures.
Many European governments now have the same goal — stemming the spread of COVID-19 while avoiding a national lockdown like the one in the spring, which is economically costly.
In a drastic move on Wednesday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a night-time curfew in Paris and eight other big cities — starting from Friday midnight and lasting for a duration of at least four weeks — except for essential reasons.
“We have now entered a phase to which we must react…The virus is everywhere in France,” Macron said in a televised interview. France has been in a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic with an average of 20,000 new infection cases per day.
The situation is worrying and the curfew is a “pertinent” measure while having the whole country locked down again, like the two-month measure earlier this year, would be “disproportionate”, Macron explained.
Earlier on Wednesday, the French government adopted a decree, which will re-impose a state of health emergency in the country starting from Friday midnight, BFMTV news channel reported.
France was in a state of health emergency from March 23 to July 9 this year during the first wave of the pandemic.
Also on Wednesday, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced to re-impose a “state of calamity” — one of the country’s three emergency levels — due to the “serious evolution” of the pandemic.
The decision was taken at the Council of Ministers’ meeting, which also adopted additional anti-virus measures. The new measures will enter into force on Thursday.
The new rules limit gatherings in public spaces to five people. Private family events, such as weddings and baptisms, can be attended by a maximum of 50 people, and “all celebrations, receptions and non-academic activities” are prohibited in schools in Portugal.
The Romanian government decided late Wednesday to further extend the state of alert for another 30 days starting Thursday, announced Raed Arafat, head of the Department for Emergency Situations (DSU).
This is the fifth extension of the state of alert, which was first announced in mid-May following a two-month higher-level state of emergency.
According to Arafat, one of the most important provisions approved by the government relates to the mandatory wearing of face masks in all public spaces in localities where the coefficient of reported infections over 14 days per 1,000 residents exceeds the threshold of three.
Face masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress COVID-19 transmission and save lives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreaks in early 2020, wearing masks in public has been widely accepted in Asian countries like China, South Korea, and Japan to limit the spread of COVID-19.
MOUNTING HUMAN COST
The human cost of coronavirus has continued to mount in Europe. Romania, Portugal, Croatia, Austria, and Slovenia all registered the highest daily infection cases on Wednesday.
Romania reported 4,016 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour span, the biggest daily jump since the pandemic began, bringing the cumulative number of confirmed cases to 164,477.
A further 66 patients died from COVID-19 in 24 hours, bringing the death toll in the country to 5,601. Another worrying data officially announced was that the number of critically-ill patients exceeded 600 for nine consecutive days, reaching a record of 686 on Wednesday.
In Spain, the country hardest-hit in Europe, the Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 11,970 new coronavirus cases, bringing the country’s total number of infections to 908,056.
It also confirmed 209 new deaths from the virus, taking the total number of victims of COVID-19 in Spain to 33,413. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry confirmed 80 deaths and 7,118 new cases.
France has registered 22,591 new cases of coronavirus infection in the last 24 hours, according to the Public Health Agency on Wednesday. It is the third time since last Friday that the daily new cases went above the 20,000 threshold.
The accumulative total of infections now stands at 779,063 and the death toll went up by 104 to reach 33,037. Currently 9,194 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, including 1,673 in intensive care, up by 245 and 31 respectively in one day.
In Britain, another 19,724 people have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 654,644, official data showed on Wednesday.
The coronavirus-related deaths in Britain rose by 137 to 43,155, the data showed.