Biden vows virus action on 'day one' as Europe suffers under second wave

AFP bureaus
·4-min read

The United States reported record new coronavirus cases for the third day in a row, as Joe Biden vowed to act against the pandemic on "day one" if he wins the presidential election in the world's worst-hit nation.

Global infections have surged past 49 million and Europe has become the new pandemic epicentre in recent weeks with more than 300,000 deaths -- nearly a quarter of the global total.

More than 127,000 new infections were reported in the US on Friday, the third straight daily record, as votes from the bitterly fought election were still being counted.

No winner has been declared but Biden promised he would not waste time in addressing the pandemic if he is victorious.

"I want everyone, everyone to know on day one we're going to put our plan to control this virus into action," the Democrat said.

-  'More distrust' -

Across the Atlantic, Greece became the latest European nation to enter lockdown Saturday with the continent reeling from a second, relentless coronavirus wave.

Under the measures, which came into force before daybreak, Greeks can only leave home if they receive authorisation to a mobile phone request. Essential shops can stay open, including supermarkets and pharmacies.

The capital's main shopping throughfare Ermou street was quiet.

But hairdressers have been allowed to stay open for two more days and they were booked out.

"I want to have my hair done so that what I see in the mirror every morning during lockdown won't cause me sadness," said Petrina, ahead of her Sunday appointment.

The measures follow the imposition of restrictions in Italy, France, Ireland and Britain, while Switzerland is also being hit hard by the virus.

Poland was imposing fresh measures Saturday too, closing most shopping centres. The government is also shutting cinemas, theatres, galleries and other cultural institutions and making hotels available for business travellers only.

Germany reported record daily figures on Saturday with 23,399 new cases and 130 deaths.

Thousands of demonstrators, few of whom were wearing face-masks,  protested in Leipzig, eastern Germany against the restrictions imposed to rein in the pandemic. 

Organisers put the turnout at 20,000 while there was also a heavy police presence.

"We demand the immediate lifting of restrictions on fundamental rights," one of the organisers shouted through a microphone.

- Clashes -

With populations growing increasingly weary of lockdowns, demonstrators and the police have also clashed in parts of Italy and the Czech Republic in recent weeks.

The Italian government announced new measures early Saturday to help businesses and families cope with the latest restrictions, which include a national night curfew and lockdown in four regions.

The latest aid package would total 2.5 billion euros ($3.0 billion), media reported Saturday.

Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo -- the epicentre of Italy's coronavirus crisis earlier this year -- said "there is more tiredness and more distrust around" than during the first lockdown, after people protested outside his home.

In the southern Italian region of Calabria, the top health official has been fired after giving journalists evasive and imprecise answers to questions on the virus.

Saverio Cotticelli appeared not even to know that it was his job to prepare an operational plan to fight the pandemic.

- Real Madrid stars catch virus -

The record US infection figures came as President Donald Trump, who survived a bout of Covid-19 in October and has been widely criticised over his handling of the crisis, trailed his Democratic challenger in the vote count.

US cases are fast approaching 10 million, with more than 236,000 deaths, and the pandemic has hammered the world's biggest economy, leaving millions jobless.

Trump has been a vocal opponent of lockdown measures, citing their impact on the economy, and has repeatedly clashed with his own government's experts over coronavirus policy.

Unlike Biden, Trump held massive campaign rallies ahead of the November 3 vote, insisting the US was "rounding the turn" despite the virus surges.

Senior members of his administration have contracted the virus recently with Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows the latest to test positive, media said late Friday.

The pandemic has been cited as one of the factors for the delay in US election results, with state authorities deluged with millions of ballots mailed by citizens not willing to risk infection by voting in person.

Governments are also exploring mass testing as a way to curb the pandemic.

In England, Liverpool on Friday began the country's first city-wide coronavirus testing program. All 500,000 residents will be offered repeat tests, even if asymptomatic, under a pilot scheme that could be rolled out nationwide if successful.

Britain on Saturday banned entry to all non-resident foreigners coming from Denmark after a mutated version of the coronavirus linked to mink farms was found in humans.

Once again the sporting world was also hit with Spanish giants Real Madrid announcing that two of their star players, Belgian forward Eden Hazard and Brazilian teammate Casemiro, have tested positive for coronavirus. 

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