Europe coronavirus: Second lockdowns loom as cases continue to rise

Europe divided by second lockdowns: Spanish PM holds emergency meeting to impose lockdown on Madrid as anti-lockdown protesters take to streets of Paris and cases rise in Germany

  • Coronavirus cases are spiking across Europe as testing ramps up and the virus starts to spread more rapidly
  • Leaders across the continent have rushed to put extra measures in place to try to bring the figures down 
  • They face resistance, amid showdown between judges and ministers in Spain anti-lockdown protests in Paris
  • Experts have cautioned that case totals now are not comparable to those reported earlier in the pandemic  

European leaders trying to push ahead with new coronavirus lockdown measures are facing growing resistence across the continent.

In Spain, ministers are today preparing to place Madrid into a state of emergency so they can force residents to comply with strict Covid travel bans after the capital’s highest court shot down the rules on Thursday.

Meanwhile anti-lockdown protesters took to the streets of Paris – where bars have been shuttered since Monday, as the cities of Lille, Grenoble, Lyon and Saint-Etienne were placed under similar measures on Thursday evening.

Health minister Olivier Veran also placed hospitals in Paris on alert, saying that 40 per cent of intensive care beds are now occupied by coronavirus patients as ‘more and more people [are] infected’.

Case totals across Europe have been rising sharply in recent weeks, driven in large part by mass testing which is now detecting infections that were missed during the first wave.  

Coronavirus cases are continuing to rise rapidly across Europe. Experts caution that a large part of the totals will be down to increased testing, but with deaths and hospital admissions also creeping up, it is thought infections are also spreading more rapidly. The challenge facing leaders now is to determine how much of the increase is down to contagion, and how to respond

In Germany, Angela Merkel is today meeting with the majors of 11 major cities to discuss extra measures that could curb infections, after several days of sustained and rapid increases in cases (pictured, people queue in Berlin for coronavirus tests)

Michael Mueller, mayor of Berlin, has warned people to avoid large gatherings and take extra precautions on public transport to avoid picking up the disease (pictured, people in Berlin queue for tests)

People wait outside a doctor’s practice in Berlin in order to get tested for coronavirus, as Germany records an uptick in cases

Germany has seen its coronavirus cases rapidly increase in recent days (left), while deaths have also started to rise (right) though have not kept pace and are well  below the first-wave peak. This is partly due to increased testing capacity picking up mild and moderate infections that were missed during the first wave

However, recent upticks in hospital admissions and deaths suggest the virus is also starting to spread more rapidly than it did in the summer as schools and universities reopen, and people travel back into offices.

The challenge for European leaders now is to determine how much of the rise is down to testing, how much is down to contagion, and how best to respond.

Germany, which has been credited with having one of the best virus responses in the world, recorded another rise in cases on Friday with 4,516 new infections logged, following a 40 per cent jump in infections on Thursday.

Angela Merkel was due to meet virtually with mayors from 11 major cities in the country on Friday to discuss extra measures to bring infections back under control.

Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, has warned that a number of cities have passed the threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 residents, seen as a precursor to uncontrolled spread.

Berlin’s figure was at 51 per 100,000 residents, while Bremen was at 53.9, and Cologne and Essen were close, with 49.8 and 48.4 per 100,000 respectively, the centre said. 

Berlin’s mayor Michael Mueller told reporters Friday that large gatherings had to be avoided and people need to take precautions on public transport, among other things.

People queue outside of a testing facility in Naples, Italy, where infections have been rising in recent days as the country also sees an uptick in infections

A health worker uses a megaphone to speak with people waiting for a coronavirus test in Naples, Italy, early on Friday

Italy has managed to keep its coronavirus case totals low since easing lockdown in May, but is now starting to see its totals trend upwards, with rapid increases in the south (pictured, a testing centre in Naples)

Italy has seen cases start to rise in recent days (left), though deaths have not followed suit (right). This is in part down to increased testing exposing more cases than were identified during the first wave, but also in part due to deaths lagging around two weeks behind case increases

The Netherlands also reported another steep rise in cases with more than 5,800 infections reported for the first time in the pandemic, which has seen it become one of the world’s infection hotspots when cases are measured against the size of the population.

While the country previously bragged of its mask-free ‘intelligent lockdown’ approach, ministers are now considering bringing in laws requiring the use of face coverings.

More blame has been laid at the door of the country’s testing regime, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitting that capacity has fallen well short of demand.

In some cases people have been unable to get tests and in others have been left waiting days for results, meaning that by the time a person knows they are infected, they may have passed the disease along to others.

Elsewhere Italy’s second wave of coronavirus infections have hit a new high, with 4,458 confirmed cases, the highest number of new infections since April.

Italy’s southern Campania region added 757 cases, with the virus bearing down in southern regions far less equipped to handle it.

Campania, the region that surrounds Naples, in recent days has ordered bars and restaurants closed by 11 p.m. and was nearly a week ahead of the national government in mandating masks outdoors.

Campania’s governor, Vincenzo De Luca has warned: ‘Let’s understand one another: We have to return to the rigorous behavior of February, March and April, otherwise we’ll be hurt.’

Paris has seen bars shuttered this week as coronavirus cases increase in France, with five other cities now facing similar restrictions (pictured, people in the French capital queue for tests)

French Health Minister Olivier Veran has placed hospitals in Paris on alert, after warning that 40 per cent of intensive care beds are now occupied by coronavirus patients (pictured, people in the city wait to be tested)

People wearing protective face masks wait in line outside of a coronavirus screening lab in Paris

France has seen coronavirus cases increase over the last several weeks (left), while deaths have also starting to trend upwards (right) but have not kept pace. This suggests the infection is starting to spread again, but that more cases are also being detected due to increased screening

Pictured: Restaurant and bar staff stage a mock funeral to decry the death of their industry in Paris last night 

Pictured: Restaurant and bar staff stage a mock funeral to decry the death of their industry in Paris last night

Pictured: Restaurant and bar staff stage a mock funeral to decry the death of their industry in Paris last night

In Paris on Thursday night, anti-lockdown protesters took to the streets of the capital last night to stage a mock funeral to represent the death of their industry.

Footage and images from the scene show bar and restaurant staff carrying a coffin draped in a black cloth in silence along the street based in the hip neighbourhood of the 11th arrondissement of Paris.

Other ‘funeralgoers’ can be seen lifting smoke flares high in the air as the procession marches down the street.

The people carrying the coffin then lay it on the ground, before unveiling the words ‘Bars, Restos, Clubs’, which are scrawled on the side of the box.

Meanwhile Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was holding an emergency Cabinet meeting on Friday morning to consider declaring a state of emergency for Madrid and its surrounding region in order to impose stronger anti-virus restrictions on the reluctant regional governors.

The meeting comes a day after a Madrid court struck down a national government order that imposed a partial lockdown in the Spanish capital and its suburbs. 

The ruling sided with regional officials who had appealed the application of stricter measures against one of Europe’s most worrying virus clusters.

The judges said that travel restrictions in and out of the cities might be necessary to fight the spread of the coronavirus, but that under the current legal framework they were violating residents’ ‘fundamental rights.’

The national government said late Thursday night that Sanchez had spoken by telephone with Madrid regional chief Isabel Diaz Ayuso and gave her an ultimatum. 

A medical worker is swabbed to test for a coronavirus infection in Madrid, which is facing strict new lockdown measures after emerging as one of Europe’s hotspots of disease

Sanchez told Ayuso that if she did not quickly tighten measures or make a formal request for his national government to declare a state of emergency, then his government would go ahead and declare it anyway.

A state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers in time of crises to temporarily limit the constitutional rights of citizens. 

In this case, it would limit their freedom of movement by restarting perimeter controls on Madrid and some nearby towns also suffering from high contagion rates.

A much stricter nationwide state of emergency that began with home confinements was applied by the government from March until June to successfully rein in Spain’s first wave of the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Since it ended, the regions have regained control of health policy and their responses to controlling outbreaks has varied. Some have applied perimeter lockdowns around areas or towns with viral clusters.

The Madrid region has a 14-day infection rate of 591 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, more than twice Spain’s national average of 257 and five times the European average rate of 113 for the week ending Sept. 27.

The bickering between Madrid’s conservative-led government and Sanchez, the leader of the Socialist Party, has angered many Spaniards who find it petty to use a public health tragedy for political skirmishing.

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