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Anger grows in Italy over harsh new virus curbs

AFP/Rome
Filed on October 26, 2020
Taxi drivers wearing face masks stand next to taxis parked on Piazza Castello square in Turin, Italy, on Monday during a strike to protest against Covid-19 restrictions.

(AFP)

Countries across Europe seeing dramatic spike in Covid-19 cases

Anger was growing in Italy Monday over harsh new coronavirus restrictions brought in to “save Christmas”, while other hard-hit countries enforced curfews in a bid to avoid fresh national lockdowns.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s decision to close restaurants and bars from 6:00 pm and shut all theatres, cinemas and gyms for a month was widely criticised, even as scientists questioned whether it would be enough to stop the virus.

“These restrictions will be the end of us,” said Giuseppe Tonon, 70, the owner of a restaurant in Oderzo, a small village in northeastern Italy.

“We’re not in a city centre, we’re in the provinces. Our customers come in the evening or during the weekend,” he told AFP after a photograph of him, slumped in despair at the news, went viral on social media.

Countries across Europe are seeing dramatic spikes in cases, and governments are taking drastic action.

Spain imposed a new national state of emergency and overnight curfews, while France set a daily record of more than 50,000 cases and extended an overnight curfew to cover areas home to around 46 million people.

Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people and infected more than 43 million globally.

The United States — still the worst-hit country — smashed its own record for new daily cases this weekend, pushing the issue up the agenda in the nation’s presidential election campaign.

The European Union said it was scaling back meetings of experts and senior officials, opting for more videoconferences as Brussels is hit by a dramatic coronavirus surge.

New controls entered into force on Monday on most of Slovenia’s frontiers with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.

And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party said it would push back a congress planned for early December to elect a new leader due to a surge in coronavirus infections.

But the battle was being won elsewhere: Australia’s second-biggest city Melbourne registered no new cases on Monday, and was set to exit lockdown this week after nearly four months of onerous restrictions.

Conte told Italians he hoped the unpopular new restrictions, which deal a severe blow to sectors already on their knees after a national lockdown this spring, “will allow us to be more relaxed by Christmas”, though he warned “hugging and partying” would still be out of the question.

“Stop! We’ve brought in a decree to save you!” a cartoon Conte told a suicidal Father Christmas on the Corriere della Sera’s front-page.

Restaurant and bar owners were not laughing. The early closing times mean Italy’s bustling aperitivo hour is gone, as are dinners out.

Famed Italian conductor Riccardo Muti appealed publicly to the prime minister, saying closing down the arts would also “harm health”.

Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic, on Sunday registered 21,273 new cases.

Regional leaders had warned a new decree with strict measures would fuel social tensions, after street clashes in Naples and Rome last week.

Far-right opposition leader Matteo Salvini said he was preparing a legal challenge, but the World Health Organization’s adviser to Rome Walter Ricciardi said the new rules may “not be enough” to stop the virus.

While Italy was the epicentre of the outbreak earlier in the year, caseloads are now much higher in Spain and France — both countries crossing the milestone of one million confirmed infections.

Spain’s state of emergency will give regions the power to limit movement in and out of their territories and extend curfews.

The country’s Catalonia region said Monday it was studying imposing a lockdown on weekends.

It would not be alone. Israel, Ireland and Wales have recently imposed lockdowns confining people to their homes for all but essential reasons to fight the virus.

Across the other side of the world, Melbourne’s five million residents finally got the news they had been waiting for, with lockdown restrictions being lifted this week.

The city’s residents have been under far tighter restrictions than anywhere else in the country, but with new cases falling dramatically, the state’s politicians had been under pressure to lift the measures.

“This has been a very difficult year. And Victorians have given a lot and I’m proud of every single one of them,” said Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews.





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