Europe swept by COVID wave amid anger at new curbs

ROME (Reuters) – European governments prepared on Tuesday to introduce new restrictions to try to curb a growing surge of coronavirus infections and provide economic balm to help businesses survive the pandemic.

Medical workers test people for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a new test station in Zagreb, Croatia October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

More than 43.4 million people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,158,056 have died, according to a Reuters tally, with the United States leading the way in the number of infections and deaths.

World leaders face an increasingly difficult task holding the disease at bay while keeping their economies afloat as they pin their hopes on a possible vaccine.

The United States, Russia, France and other countries have registered record numbers of infections in recent days as autumn turns to winter in the Northern Hemisphere and people congregate indoors where the risk of infection grows.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets across Italy on Monday to vent their anger at the latest round of restrictions, including early closing for bars and restaurants, with demonstrations in some cities turning violent.

In the financial capital Milan, youths hurled petrol bombs at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas. In nearby Turin, luxury shops had their windows smashed and some were ransacked, leading to the arrest of 10 rioters.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was expected to approve measures to help companies hit by the new curbs introduced at the weekend after daily infections increased eight-fold in less than a month.

In France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin warned the country to prepare for “difficult decisions” after some of the strictest restrictions currently in place anywhere in Europe have failed to halt the spread of the disease.

“EXPONENTIAL GROWTH”

There have been at least 8.54 million reported infections and 251,000 deaths caused by coronavirus in Europe so far, according to latest Reuters data. The continent registered a record 230,892 new cases on Oct. 26, up from 67,739 on Oct. 1.

Authorities in Russia, which with 1.55 million infections has the world’s fourth largest COVID-19 case load, ordered people to wear facemasks in some public places and asked regional authorities to consider shutting bars and restaurants overnight.

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New infections in Belgium, among the hardest-hit countries in Europe, hit a high of more than 18,000 on Oct. 20, almost a 10-fold increase from the high of a spring wave of the pandemic.

The country should decide by this weekend whether a return to a nationwide lockdown is required, an official said.

Even Germany, widely praised for its initial response to the pandemic, signalled concern on Tuesday over rising infections, with Economy Minister Peter Altmaier saying the country was likely to reach 20,000 cases a day by the end of this week.

“We are dealing with exponential growth,” Altmaier told a virtual German-French economic conference in Berlin.

Underscoring the financial concerns, European equities fell as risk-aversion swept markets. Nearly 200 airports in Europe face insolvency if passenger traffic does not start recovering, airports body ACI Europe said.

Adding to the gloomy sentiment, a new study by Imperial College London found that antibodies against the new coronavirus declined rapidly in the British population during summer, suggesting protection after infection may not be long-lasting. Recovering patients may also suffer a decline in brain function, researchers warned.

With state finances creaking under the weight of the crisis, Spain’s government said on Tuesday it planned to raise taxes on large companies and wealthy people to fund increased spending on social care and infrastructure.

While Europe is struggling to contain the coronavirus, Asian countries appear to be doing a better job.

Hong Kong announced it would reopen public beaches and increase the number of people allowed to sit together in bars and restaurants starting Friday as the city continues to unwind strict COVID-19 rules put in place in July.

In the United States, the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients is at a two-month high, straining health care systems in some states.

President Donald Trump, facing a tough re-election battle on Nov. 3, on Monday lashed out again at reports that the coronavirus is surging.

He repeated his unfounded claim that cases were rising because there was more testing.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States last week rose 24% while the number of tests performed rose 5.5%, according to a Reuters analysis. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR)

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