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European countries impose tighter restrictions as Covid-19 cases rise

A month-long lockdown for Paris and several other French regions was announced yesterday.

Image: PA

COUNTRIES ACROSS THE EU have begun to re-impose tighter coronavirus restrictions as they deal with increasing case numbers.

In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex yesterday announced a limited month-long lockdown for Paris and several other regions to combat surging Covid-19 cases, while insisting the measures would be less strict than in the past.

While non-essential businesses will close and movement outside will be restricted in the affected regions, schools will stay open and outdoor exercise allowed up to 10 kilometres from home, he said.

He said the measures were due to an increased number of Covid-19 cases due to a “third wave” of the virus, with around 1,200 people in intensive care in the Paris region alone.

The other regions affected by the new measures also include the Hauts-de-France region of northeast France which covers the city of Lille as well as the Alpes-Maritimes on the Mediterranean, as well as Seine-Maritime and the Eure in the north.

Tighter restrictions aimed at reining in surging coronavirus cases have been implemented in much of Italy and parts of Poland.

In line with an Italian government decision late last week, 80% of school children, from nursery to high schools, were locked out of the classroom from Monday.

The decision was taken on the basis of ever-mounting numbers of ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, steadily rising daily caseloads and infection transmission predominantly driven by the B117 virus variant first discovered in the UK.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s new government applied “red zone” designation on more regions, including, for the first time since the colour-tiered system was created last autumn, on Lazio, the region including Rome.

In red-zone regions, restaurants and cafes can only do takeaway or delivery, non-essential shops are closed and residents must stick close to home, except for work, health or shopping for necessities.

Over the weekend, many hair salons extended hours to handle last-minute customers, and crowds filled shopping streets, parks and seaside promenades before the crackdown took effect.

Draghi has promised a quick infusion of pandemic aid to closed businesses.

In Poland, amid a sharp spike in the number of new infections and of new Covid-19 hospital patients, restrictions were tightened in two more regions, including the capital, Warsaw, and a western province that borders Germany. Two other provinces were already under restrictions.

Under the heightened measures, hotels and shopping centres have to remain closed, as do theatres, cinemas, fitness clubs and sports facilities. School children aged six to nine will have a combination of in-class and remote teaching.

Germany reported the highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases in two months today.

Current lockdown restrictions include the closure of restaurants, non-essential retail, gyms, hotels and cultural venues. These restrictions are due to be lifted on 28 March. 

However under the country’s lockdown guidelines, restrictions should be reimposed of incidence rates rise above 100 for three consecutive days. The seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 is now 95.6. 

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Estonia, with one of the highest 14-day incidence rates in the world, is also coming under increasing pressure. On Monday Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said she too had tested positive for Covid.

The healthcare system is now at stage 2 emergency and preparing to go into the highest level of stage 3, allowing hospitals that are running out of beds and staff to cut down on non-urgent treatment.

Last week, countries in the Western Balkans announced a tightening of measures amid a surge in cases in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro.

As they received first vaccines on Wednesday, doctors in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, warned that the virus has exploded in the past several days. Bars, restaurants and non-essential shops in the Sarajevo territory will be shut for the upcoming weekend.

In Serbia, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic criticised the holding in past days of two concerts by a popular band at a Belgrade hall. The country of seven million has vaccinated more than 1.5 million people, which is among the highest rates in Europe.

On the western edge of the continent, Portugal stands out as an outlier. It is emerging from a two-month lockdown, with the country gradually reopening over the next seven weeks, barring setbacks.

Primary and nursery schools, hair salons and bookshops are among the places reopening. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a tweet that the process must be “very prudent, gradual and piecemeal”.

- With reporting from AFP.

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