Europe steps up Covid-19 fight
EUROPEAN nations have enacted sweeping restrictions on citizens’ freedom to move around and socialise to combat the coronavirus outbreak, leaving shops shuttered, travel plans scrapped and streets empty.
France on Saturday became the latest European country to shut down all non-essential businesses that serve the public until further notice to slow the spread of the Covid-19.
The order applies to cafés, restaurants, cinemas and almost all shops, except food stores, pharmacies and tobacconists.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that the virus was spreading faster, with “a large rise in the number of people in intensive care” in some areas.
“We are heading towards a nationwide epidemic in the coming days,” general director of health Jerome Salomon said, warning that the public was “not yet sufficiently aware of its role” in stopping the spread of the virus.
France has now confirmed 4 500 infections, a figure that has doubled in 72 hours, and 91 deaths. There are more than 300 patients in intensive care and more than half of them are aged under 60.
Restaurants and stores offering non-essential goods in the Czech Republic were also locked up for the next 10 days from Saturday, while Belgium followed suit to close all restaurants, cafés and bars.
Latvia and Norway followed others in closing their borders to all foreigners from early next week, with Latvia also placing an immediate ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
The Czech Republic also banned entry to foreigners from high-risk states, while the government now forbids most Czech citizens from visiting neighbouring Germany and Austria.
Denmark’s borders closed at noon on Saturday, although deliveries of medicine, food and other important goods would be granted entry.
Poland slapped a ban on entry to foreigners from yesterday, and international air and train connections would be suspended. Citizens and permanent residents are allowed in but will be subject to a two-week quarantine upon re-entry.
The stringent restrictions came after the head of the World Health Organisation announced on Friday that Europe was now the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, surpassing China as the world’s coronavirus hot spot.
In Italy, the worst-affected country in the world outside of China, numbers soared to 21 157 infections and 1 441 deaths.
Amid a national lockdown that has been going on since last Tuesday, people were trying to keep their spirits up with balcony singalongs and other flash mob events.
Spain appeared set to follow Italy’s lead. The country was to officially declare a state of emergency on Saturday after 70 000 people were placed under quarantine.
Countries across Europe have banned large gatherings, or strongly advised against them. Museums, landmarks and theme parks have been closed.
Travel by planes and trains has also been curtailed as operators slash routes and governments ban arrivals from selected countries.
The Trump administration’s 30-day travel ban on flights from the 26-nation passport-free Schengen area, and Britain and Ireland, has gone into force. The administration was partnering with private labs and cutting red tape for the rapid mass production of Covid-19 tests amid fears that containment was no longer attainable in some of the nation’s largest population areas.