European nations mixed in their response to virus spikes
Countries across Europe are battling coronavirus infection spikes with new lockdowns, curfews, face mask orders and virus tracking smart phone apps.
In a small indication of success, Spain’s government said it won’t extend a state of emergency in the Madrid region when it expires Saturday, but will look to more local measures.
But as a resurgence of the global pandemic sweeps across the continent, local and national governments also are facing swelling opposition to the new measures. Britain’s government on Tuesday said it will impose tough new measures on Greater Manchester, sparking anger from the region’s mayor.
In The Hague, bar and restaurant owners failed in a legal challenge to an order to close their doors for at least four weeks. An outcry in Portugal has forced authorities to back away from a plan to make a tracing app mandatory nationwide.
Amid the public frustration, some countries are dangling a festive carrot in front of virus-weary populations, saying that tough action now could clear the way for an easing of measures before Christmas.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel invoked the holiday period over the weekend and other countries are following suit. Merkel told her country: “What winter will be like, what our Christmas will be like, will be decided in these coming days and weeks.”
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday the government won’t extend the state of emergency in the Madrid region when it expires Saturday, but it may begin introducing curfews at COVID-19 hotspots around the country.
Illa said the partial lockdown in the Madrid area in recent weeks had helped put a lid on community transmission that made it one of Europe’s most significant coronavirus clusters.
He noted, however, that Madrid’s number of cases is still high. The region has reported more than 29,000 cases over the past two weeks, though its tally on Tuesday was 354 new cases in 24 hours -- Spain’s fourth-highest rate.
Illa said he is assessing with Spain’s regional governments the possibility of agreeing on targeted curfews, as the country approaches the milestone of 1 million officially recorded cases.
“I want to be very clear,” Illa said. “Some very hard weeks are coming.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict restrictions on England’s second-largest city, after talks with officials in Greater Manchester failed to agree on financial support for people whose livelihoods will be hit by the new measures.
Johnson’s government is resisting a recommendation from its scientific advisory committee for a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, it has adopted a three-tier system for England, with areas classed as medium, high, and of very high risk. In the top tier, pubs have to close and people are barred from mixing with members of other households.
Greater Manchester joins the Liverpool and Lancashire regions of northwest England which have been placed in Tier 3, the highest level.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, a member of the opposition Labour Party, had been seeking more financial support for workers and businesses affected by the restrictions in his region of almost 3 million people. He blamed Johnson for walking away from negotiations.
The other nations of the U.K. control their own health policies and are taking slightly different approaches.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin announced a tough new lockdown. From midnight Wednesday, non-essential shops must close, restaurants will be limited to takeout, people must stay within five kilometers (three miles) of their homes and visits to other households are banned.
It’s a near-return to the severe restrictions imposed by the government in March, although schools, construction sites and manufacturing industries will remain open. Martin said that if people complied with the restrictions, which will be in place until Dec. 1, the country would be able to celebrate Christmas “in a meaningful way.”
Ireland, which has a population of almost 5 million, has recorded 1,852 coronavirus deaths.
Uppsala, a university city north of Stockholm, on Tuesday became the first place in Sweden to introduce local restrictions as inhabitants were urged to avoid physical contact and parties and stay away from public transport.
“In Uppsala, you now need to be even more careful,” said Anders Tegnell, who is credited with being behind Sweden’s much debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of society open.
He added that the restrictions would last two weeks and could be extended and introduced elsewhere in Sweden. Restaurants and schools in Uppsala were not affected.
A judge in The Hague rejected an appeal by more than 60 Dutch bars and restaurants to overturn a government four-week closure order.
Lawyer Simon van Zijll, representing the bars and restaurants, warned in court that the Dutch hospitality industry faces “a tidal wave of bankruptcies” caused by the lockdown order, which he described as “random and disproportionate.”
The Netherlands has one of Europe’s highest rates of infections in the resurgence of the virus.
The national government wanted to make its COVID-19 tracing app mandatory, but a broad outcry has forced it to back down from the plan which was widely criticized as unworkable and unconstitutional.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a television interview late Monday that the widely contested move, which was due to go to a vote later this week in parliament, required further debate.
Parliament is expected on Friday to make the wearing of face masks mandatory outdoors.
The country recorded its highest ever number of coronavirus deaths on Tuesday as 38 patients succumbed to the illness, pushing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 fatalities to 1,211.
The central government in Budapest has canceled most events planned for the Oct. 23 national holiday and called on local municipalities to follow suit. The festive period in Hungary already has taken a hit — the Christmas Fair in the capital, one of the largest and most visited in central and eastern Europe, has also been canceled.
AP journalists across Europe contributed to this report.