New virus restrictions in Europe; Merkel warns of hard days
BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to come together like they did in the spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus as the country posted another daily record of new cases Saturday.
“Difficult months are ahead of us,” she said in her weekly video podcast. “How winter will be, how our Christmas will be, that will all be decided in these coming days and weeks, and it will be decided by our behavior.”
Meanwhile, new restrictions went into effect in several other European nations in an effort to staunch the resurgence of the pandemic.
In Paris and eight other French cities, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other establishments were being forced to close no later than 9 p.m. to try to reduce contact among people. The country was deploying 12,000 extra police officers to enforce the new rules.
In Britain, a three-tier regional approach to battle the pandemic introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week went into effect, with each level bringing in progressively tighter restrictions.
On Saturday, tier-2 cities like London and York were subject to a ban on socializing with people from other households indoors, while the county of Lancashire joined Liverpool in tier 3 with the tightest restrictions.
Among other things, that means pubs have been forced to close and socialization with others is banned even in many outdoor settings.
In Northern Ireland a “circuit breaker” lockdown lasting four weeks came into force Friday in an attempt to quickly tamp down the spread of the virus. All pubs and restaurants must close except for takeaway services, and schools will close for two weeks for an extended half-term holiday.
Data from Friday showed that a further 136 people died in the U.K. within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total official toll to 43,429.
On Friday, the World Health Organization warned that intensive care units in a number of European cities could reach maximum capacity in the coming weeks if the number of infections is not slowed.
In Germany, which was widely lauded for being able to rapidly slow the spread of the pandemic when it first broke out, the numbers have been climbing rapidly recently.
On Saturday, the country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 7,830 cases overnight, a new record.
Like most countries, Germany has been grappling with how to keep schools and businesses open, while trying to prevent people from coming into close contact with one another.
Germany has registered a total of 356,387 coronavirus cases, though a relatively low 9,767 deaths.
With the numbers again rising, however, Merkel urged Germans to avoid unnecessary travel, cancel parties and remain at home whenever it is possible.
“What brought us so well through the first half year of the pandemic?” she asked. “It was that we stood together and obeyed the rules out of consideration and common sense. This is the most effective remedy we currently have against the pandemic and it is more necessary now than ever.”
In the neighboring Czech Republic, the number of new infections surpassed 10,000 for the first time, surging to 11,105 on Friday, the Health Ministry said.
That was almost 1,400 more than the previous record set a day earlier and the country has now registered a total of 160,112 cases, including 1,283 deaths.
After a series of new restrictive measures adopted by the government to slow down the surge, Health Minister Roman Prymula said he still expects a rise of those testing positive for about two weeks.
Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where the European coronavirus outbreak began in late February, has taken new measures to contain rebounding infections, limiting bar service and alcohol sales, banning contact sports and closing bingo parlors.
The regional government late Friday also called for high schools to adopt hybrid schedules, with students alternating in-person with online learning.
The measures were taken after Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region, once again become the most affected in the COVID-19 resurgence, adding more than 2,000 infections a day. Hospitals are coming under strain and intensive care units are filling up.
The new measures allow only table service for bars from 6 p.m., ban takeout alcohol sales from that time and prohibit all consumption of booze in public spaces, an effort to eliminate crowds from forming in piazzas with takeout drinks.
Italy’s other hardest-hit region, southern Campania, has taken similarly strict measures, including a shutdown of schools for two weeks. After parents protested, the regional governor backed off Friday and allowed daycare centers to remain open.