England mulls fresh lockdown, Slovakia to test entire population as second wave of COVID-19 sweeps Europe

COVID-19-related hospitalisations have hit record numbers in at least 14 European countries this week, according to AFP data

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalisations hit record numbers in at least 14 European countries this week, as the second wave of the pandemic hits, according to AFP data compiled from official figures.

The worst-hit European countries have been the Czech Republic, with 62 virus-related hospital patients per 100,000 residents, followed by Romania on 57, Belgium on 51, and Poland, 39.

The figures are based on hospital figures provided by 35 of the 52 European nations, including most of the EU nations.

In total, 1.35 lakh COVID-19 patients are currently being treated in hospitals throughout those 35 nations, compared to less than one lakh a week earlier.

The countries with the biggest registered increase were Serbia, with hospitalisations up 97 percent, Belgium up 81 percent, Austria up 69 percent, and Italy up 65 percent.

Only Montenegro saw numbers drop, after a previous spike.

Meanwhile, the situation continued to worsen in the former European Union partner Britain, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to mull another month-long lockdown to curb virus cases.

More than 46,000 people have died of the virus in Britain — more than any other European country.

Johnson held an urgent cabinet meeting on Saturday and looked set to join other European countries in imposing a new coronavirus lockdown in England, as Slovakia took a different tack and began testing its entire population.

The list of countries on the continent re-implementing stringent new restrictions on people’s lives is fast expanding as Europe experiences a dizzying spike in COVID-19 cases, leading to widespread exasperation and sometimes violent protests.

On Saturday alone Austria brought in a second lockdown, Greece declared a partial one while Portugal was also considering tighter restrictions as infections hit record numbers.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 11,89,892 people since emerging in China last December, according to an AFP tally from official sources. At least 4,56,50,850 cases have been registered worldwide.

Based on the latest 24-hour reports from Friday, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 919, followed by India with 551 and France — which is already in the midst of a second lockdown — with 545.

The United States also passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday, as infections spike days before the nation chooses its next president.

England mulls fresh lockdown Slovakia to test entire population as second wave of COVID19 sweeps Europe

French police officials check the written statement of a woman declaring her reason to be out on the beach during the lockdown. AFP

England into new lockdown?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened his cabinet on Saturday to decide whether to impose a new lockdown across England within days, following warnings his localised restrictions strategy has failed to curb soaring cases.

The new nationwide rules will reportedly close all but “essential” stores as well as a bars and restaurants while keeping schools, colleges and universities open. Johnson is expected to make an announcement from Downing Street later Saturday.

England mulls fresh lockdown Slovakia to test entire population as second wave of COVID19 sweeps Europe

Shoppers walk at a near-deserted city centre in Leeds, Yorkshire on October 31, 2020, as the number of cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 rises. AFP

The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have already reimposed partial lockdowns to try to cut their surging rates.

“Government delay has cost both lives and livelihoods,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, of the main opposition Labour party, tweeted. “We must act now to protect both.”

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, meanwhile, justified his new partial lockdown by saying it was time to act “before intensive care units buckle under the strain of lives in danger”.

The new lockdown will close restaurants and other leisure activities in Athens and other major cities from Tuesday.

Slovakia plans tests for everyone

England mulls fresh lockdown Slovakia to test entire population as second wave of COVID19 sweeps Europe

Slovakia on 31 October began a programme to screen its entire population for coronavirus but medical professionals have warned it could lead to an increase in cases. AFP

In Slovakia, the government decided to take a different approach and test its 5.4-million-strong population.

Some 45,000 medical workers, army, and police are being deployed to carry out the tests in the EU nation, collecting swabs at around 5,000 testing points.

Participation in the testing is not mandatory but anyone who is not able to produce a negative test certificate if stopped by police could face a heavy fine.

Anyone who tests positive has to go immediately into quarantine for 10 days.

“This will be our road to freedom,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said this week, hinting that virus restrictions could be eased once testing is complete, or reinforced if the programme is not carried out in full.

But the Slovak Association of General Practitioners has criticised the operation as ill-conceived, pointing out that crowding into testing sites went against anti-infection protocols.

Violent clashes in Italy

England mulls fresh lockdown Slovakia to test entire population as second wave of COVID19 sweeps Europe

A man dressed in a devil’s costume takes part in a protest against Austrian government’s restrictions implied due to the new coronavirus cases. AFP

Some countries that have already reintroduced lockdowns, at varying degrees of severity, are now facing a backlash from disgruntled citizens.

Protesters clashed with police in Barcelona on Friday after hundreds gathered to denounce new coronavirus restrictions, including a curfew and a ban on leaving the city over the holiday weekend.

In Italy, the mayor of Florence Dario Nardella appealed for calm after violent clashes late Friday between riot police and protesters, some of whom hurled Molotov cocktails, bottles, and rocks, overturning trash bins and breaking security cameras.

“This is not how you protest your grievances, this is not how you voice your suffering,” Nardella wrote.

In Bologna some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, a few hundred people also protested on Friday evening, most of them young men, including football hooligans and some giving the fascist salute, La Repubblica daily reported.

Italy’s government is also eyeing a lockdown of the country’s major cities, including Milan, Rome, and Naples.

Fears over Formula One 

The sporting world, meanwhile, continued to be hit by the virus.

Italy’s Lazio, already deprived of several players, announced on Saturday that it had put its entire squad in quarantine after positive coronavirus tests.

And Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said there were concerns that further COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe could hit Formula One as Lewis Hamilton heads towards a record-equalling seventh world title.

“The situation is becoming more difficult,” he said at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on Friday.

With inputs from AFP

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