Europe imposes new virus curbs as exasperation, anger grows

Protesters block the Gran Via street in Madrid, central Spain, on Nov 31, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (AFP) - Germany on Monday (Nov 2) led a further tightening of coronavirus restrictions in Europe that have triggered anger and frustration across the continent, while the Covid-19 crisis in the United States deepened.

The virus has infected more than 46 million people worldwide, with close to 1.2 million deaths, and the acute outbreaks in Europe and America sparking further alarm about the state of the already devastated global economy.

To curb the spike in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a round of shutdowns from Monday until the end of the month.

Germans will not be confined to their homes, but bars, cafes and restaurants must close, as well as theatres, operas and cinemas.

The sadness was palpable at the renowned Bavarian State Opera House in Munich as it prepared to close.

It is "a slap", said baritone Michael Nagy, unable to hide his tears.

England prepared for fresh stay-at-home orders, following in the steps of Austria, France and Ireland, with many expressing anxiety about the economic cost of the four-week shutdown due to take effect from Thursday.

"This city will go bust, there will be nothing left of it," said Mr Roger Stenson, a 73-year-old pensioner in the city of Nottingham, echoing widespread concern over the long-lasting impact of another shutdown.

"I fear for the young, like my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they're going to suffer."

Mr Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, which lobbies for the entertainment and hospitality sector, said the new closures would leave businesses facing "financial Armageddon".

Tighter lockdown rules were also set to kick in Monday for Belgium, which has the most Covid-19 cases per capita in the world.

Portugal, too, has ordered a partial lockdown starting Wednesday.

And in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex said supermarkets would be barred from selling "non-essential" items from Tuesday to protect small shopkeepers who have been forced to close.

Spain has already imposed a nighttime curfew, and almost all of its regions have implemented regional border closures to prevent long-distance travel.

The Italian government is expected to announce new restrictions on Monday, according to news reports, with the health minister pushing for a countrywide lockdown.

'Anger and protests'

The threat of the virus was illustrated further Sunday when the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that he was self-quarantining after someone he had been in contact with tested positive.

"I am well and without symptoms but will self-quarantine over the coming days, in line with @WHO protocols, and work from home," Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet, stressing the importance of complying with coronavirus guidance.

But the ongoing tightening of virus rules and restrictions has sparked anger in people weary of confinement and the painful economic costs.

That frustration has led to protests in many parts of the world, especially Europe, with some leading to violent skirmishes with police.

Protesters in several Spanish cities clashed with security forces for a second night Saturday, police said, with vandalism and looting breaking out in some parts.

The biggest disturbances were in Madrid where scores of demonstrators chanting "freedom!" torched rubbish bins and set up makeshift barricades on the city's main thoroughfare, the Gran Via, images on social media showed.

Italy was also the scene of protests last week.

People protest during the demonstration of the 'Mascherine Tricolori' movement at Piazza Campo dei Fiori in Rome, Italy, on Oct 31, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

There has already been violence in several Italian cities, as well as Czech capital Prague recently.

The unrest over virus restrictions has not been limited to Europe.

Riots took place in several Argentinian jails on Saturday, as prisoners demanded the resumption of visits during the pandemic.

'A whole lot of hurt'

The health situation is also deteriorating in the United States, which is gearing up for a major election showdown between President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Joe Biden on Tuesday.

It is the worst-affected country in the world with 9.2 million infections and more than 230,000 deaths, and the pandemic has been front and centre during the bitter election campaign.

With cases surging again, experts have warned of more devastation.

Top government scientist Dr Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post in a interview published on Saturday that the US is "in for a whole lot of hurt."

"All the stars are aligned in the wrong place," he said.

Costumed revelers walk the city streets on Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, on Oct 31, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

The widely-popular Halloween celebration was a muted affair this year, particularly in Salem, Massachusetts.

The coastal city that infamously held witch trials in the 17th century is a draw for chill-seekers, and while grim reapers, mad scientists and tarot readers still paraded the streets on Saturday, authorities decided to shut down the city at 8pm to avoid crowds.

In Mexico, parades were cancelled and cemeteries closed on Sunday during the Day of the Dead festival, in which people normally deck their homes, streets and relatives' graves with flowers, candles and colourful skulls.

Many remembered those who have passed in the privacy of their homes, as authorities urged people to avoid gatherings.

Ms Janet Burgos decorated an altar with confetti, fruit and a photograph of her mother Rosa Maria, who died in June aged 64 from suspected Covid-19.

"Now I begin to see what the Day of the Dead really represents," she said.

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