Empty tables are seen outside a restaurant in Rome, Italy, October 14 2020. Picture: REUTERS/REMO CASILLI
Empty tables are seen outside a restaurant in Rome, Italy, October 14 2020. Picture: REUTERS/REMO CASILLI

London/Rome — Millions across Europe faced greater restrictions on their movement over the weekend, with Italy readying new measures and London and Paris enforcing tighter curbs, in an escalating effort to check the surge in coronavirus cases.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is likely to order bars and restaurants to close at 10pm, ban sporting activities and change the hours for high schools to prevent congestion, said officials in his government, who asked not to be identified in line with their policy.

Switzerland will require masks in public indoor spaces effective on Monday and gatherings of more than 15 people will be forbidden, President Simonetta Sommaruga said.

In London, rules took effect banning people from mixing with other households indoors, while in Paris and eight other French cities, residents are confined to home between 9pm and 6am for four weeks.

In Belgium, which has the most cases per capita in Europe except for the Czech Republic, the government announced plans for new restrictions nationwide starting on Monday. Ireland is set to approve tighter national measures on Monday.

With the exception of Belgium and Ireland, Europe’s leaders have mostly stuck to local restrictions targeted at urban virus hot spots after broad lockdowns earlier this year triggered some of the worst recessions in living memory. But with the region heading into the winter, when people will be unable to spend as much time outdoors and transmission rates are likely to rise, getting back to any sense of normality appears some way off.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz urged Austrians to curb social contact and observe health measures to avoid a second lockdown in a videotaped message on social media.

“If all of us do without private festivities, large gatherings, parties, we can slow down the spread and keep open schools, the economy, and large parts of social life,” Kurz said.

The increased restrictions come as new cases hit daily records across much of Europe. France reported 32,427 infections on Saturday, Italy 10,925, the UK 16,171 and Germany 7,695.

Italy’s coalition is divided over the new restrictions. Some in the government are seeking even tougher rules, while Conte insists that the outbreak now is much different from what the country faced earlier this year, so the measures should mirror the situation, Italian media including Il Corriere della Sera reported. Regional leaders met on Sunday with ministers to try to agree on new rules.

Authorities in the Lombardy region, which includes the financial capital of Milan, already on Friday told bars and restaurants to start closing at midnight, suspended gaming, and banned establishments from serving alcohol after 6pm, except to patrons seated at tables. Restrictions for high schools and sports events were also announced.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier entered quarantine after a bodyguard tested positive for the virus on Saturday, a spokesperson said. Steinmeier’s first test result was negative but he will be tested again.

In Belgium, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said hospitality restrictions, along with a midnight to 5am curfew and curbs on alcohol sales and gatherings, will take effect on Monday for four weeks. Work from home will be mandatory wherever possible. Bars in Brussels were already closed last week.

“By many measures, the numbers are worse than they were in March or April,” De Croo said during a news conference. “And I bring no good message: those numbers are likely to keep rising in the coming days.”

Belgium’s experience suggests that the prospect of national shutdowns is growing likelier, even after leaders including UK prime minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to do everything possible to keep their economies running.

Ireland’s cabinet is set to approve on Monday moving the nation to a level 5 lockdown, the tightest shutdown, as cases surge to levels last seen in April. Most of the country is on level 3. Level 5 would see all non-essential stores close and confine people to within 5km of home.

In Spain, bars and restaurants have closed in the Catalonia region around Barcelona, while in Austria, Kurz is attempting to channel what he called the “team spirit” citizens showed during the first wave of infections in the spring. The government has scheduled a meeting with the country’s nine provinces on Monday to decide how to reduce social contacts after the country posted a record increase in new cases on Saturday.

“The second wave is here,” said Swiss interior minister Alain Berset. “It came on quicker than we expected, but we’re ready for it.”


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