Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 mln

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MADRID (AFP) – A host of European countries imposed new local restrictions on Friday to reduce spiralling new cases of coronavirus as they seek to avoid the example of Israel which enforced a second nationwide shutdown.

City authorities in Madrid announced a partial lockdown on nearly a million people, the British government unveiled new measures limiting social contact in several regions, while Ireland banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs in Dublin.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in” as he toured the site of a new vaccine centre.

“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe — it has been absolutely, I m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country,” he added.

In France, where new daily cases hit a fresh record of 13,000 on Friday, the government is struggling to create enough testing capacity as new hotspots emerge daily.

The city of Nice on the Riviera banned groups of more than 10 people meeting on its beach, in parks or public gardens.

Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while more than 30.2 million cases have been registered.

“We re adding about 1.8 to two million cases per week to the global case count, and an average somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.

“Thankfully that is not rising exponentially. This is a hugely high figure to be settling at. That is not where we want to be.”

– Hospital pressure –

In Madrid, one of the worst affected areas in Europe during the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April, medics warned that hospitals were getting close to capacity again.

“Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” Santiago Usoz, an accident and emergency medic at the October 12 hospital, told AFP.

A partial lockdown was announced for residents of several areas in densely populated, low-income neighbourhoods in the south of the capital which will come into force on Monday.

People will only be allowed to leave their zone to go to work, seek medical care or take their children to school, while bars and restaurants will have to reduce their capacity by 50 percent, the regional government of Madrid said.

Rules preventing people from socialising with anyone from outside their household were imposed in northeast England on Friday, putting more than two million people under new restrictions.

These will be extended to other parts of northwest, northern and central England from Tuesday.

“We re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday.

Music legend Van Morrison made his frustration known on Friday, saying he had recorded three “protest songs” called “Born To Be Free”, “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown.”

– Israeli action –

Israel has become the first major country to impose another national shutdown which began on Friday, hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and wil last for three weeks.

The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 metres of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.

“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.

“And all this for what? For nothing!”

Meanwhile, most of a group of more than a thousand Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the border between Ukraine and Belarus left on Friday after being refused entry due to coronavirus rules.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

In the United States, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden continued to trade barbs over the handling of the pandemic.

Trump has expressed confidence that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert

Elsewhere, new details emerged about a wedding in rural Maine in August which became a so-called “superspreader” event that left seven people dead and 177 infected.

The nuptials at a church and hotel near the picturesque town of Millinocket were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.

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