European roundup: French cities given curfew; Italy breaks March record

Jon Henley in Paris, Angela Giuffrida in Rome and Sam Jones in Madrid
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Residents of major French cities including the Paris region are to be confined to their homes between 9pm and 6am, Emmanuel Macron has said, as governments across Europe battle to contain record numbers of Covid-19 infections.

The French president used a prime-time TV interview on Wednesday to announce the curfew, which will be in place for four weeks from midnight on Saturday and will affect nine cities including Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse and Lille.

“The situation is worrying but not out of control,” Macron said. “We are in a second wave that is happening all across Europe.”

France’s health ministry on Wednesday announced 22,950 new coronavirus cases and said 32% of the country’s intensive care beds were occupied by Covid patients. The government restored a national state of health emergency minutes before the president spoke.

Macron said the objective was to reduce the number of new infections per day to between 3,000 and 5,000, and he warned the country would have to live with the virus until at least next summer.

“We have to act,” he said. “We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus. We have to reduce the number of social contacts … of festive contacts, that are taking place. It will demand a big effort from everyone – but it is necessary.”

A full nationwide lockdown would be “disproportionate”, Macron said, and state aid would again be available to employers in sectors that would be most affected, such as hospitality and entertainment.

“People will have to forget about night-time visits to restaurants or to friends’ houses,” he said. Essential trips during curfew would still be allowed, but people breaking the new rules would face a fine of €135 (£120).

People dine at a restaurant in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, south-west France, as Emmanuel Macron gives an address on television
People dine at a restaurant in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, south-west France, as Emmanuel Macron gives an address on television. Photograph: Bob Edme/AP

In Germany, Angela Merkel and the premiers of the country’s 16 federal states agreed to a new rule whereby cities or regions where infection rates are rising rapidly will have to impose an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, the threshold at which tougher measures, which also include tighter restrictions on private gatherings, kick in will be lowered to 35 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, compared with 50 before.

An 11pm curfew for bars, restaurants and off-licences had already been imposed in the capital, Berlin, which is enforcing a closing time on drinking establishments for the first time in more than 70 years.

Italy reported 7,332 new cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, exceeding its previous high of 6,557 on 21 March, before widespread testing was available. There were 43 fatalities.

A government health adviser said new cases could eclipse 16,000 a day by November. Meanwhile, Carlo Palermo, the head of a doctors’ union, warned that if the daily rate reached the same level as in France, the country’s hospitals would not be able to cope for longer than two months.

Masks became mandatory outdoors in Italy last week and are now advised indoors when families are together or with guests, who should be limited to six. Restaurants and bars must close at midnight. Cases have leapt since economic activity resumed after the summer holidays, with many experts blaming packed public transport.

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The Netherlands goes into partial lockdown from 10pm on Wednesday to curb a surge in cases, with all bars, cafes and restaurants to close. For months the Dutch government took a more relaxed line than its European neighbours, but it has scrambled to control the second wave of the disease.

Belgium’s Covid crisis centre said intensive care units would reach capacity by mid-November if new cases continued to increase at the current rate, as the country registered 7,360 new cases and an 80% rise in hospitalisations over the past week.

Last week the government introduced a series of restrictions including local curfews, closing bars in Brussels for at least a month and limiting indoor sports activities. Authorities have urged residents to limit social encounters.

The Catalan government said on Wednesday that all bars and restaurants in the region would be limited to takeaway and delivery service for two weeks from Thursday. Shops and markets will operate at 30% capacity and gyms, cinemas and theatres at 50%, and children’s play areas will close at 8pm.

Rolling weekly case totals in the autonomous Spanish region have risen from 7,000 to 11,000 over the course of a few days. “We need a huge collective effort built on individual efforts to change our day-to-day habits,” said the acting regional president, Pere Aragonès.

Tougher measures will be adopted in Portugal, too, from Thursday, including stricter limits on gatherings and heavier penalties for rule-breaking establishments. Gatherings will be limited to five people, with weddings and baptisms allowed 50 guests but university parties banned.

A day before an emergency national “crisis summit” to determine how a second lockdown can be avoided, Switzerland recorded its highest single-day increase in infections, with 2,823 cases recorded on Wednesday – nearly double the figure for the day before.

Poland reported a record 6,526 new infections and 116 deaths, and doctors said the healthcare system was becoming overloaded. The country is ramping up training for nurses and could consider setting up military field hospitals for Covid patients, officials said.

Authorities in Croatia reported a new daily record of 748 infections, after earlier this week making masks obligatory indoors in public places and ordering bars and restaurants to restrict customer numbers and close at midnight.

Czech hospitals are converting general wards into Covid units and cancelling non-urgent procedures as the number of hospitalisations reaches six times the peak seen during the first wave of the virus.

The EU has approved a traffic light information system for travel within the bloc in an effort to provide clarity for travellers. The European council adopted the common criteria on Tuesday, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will publish a weekly map of EU countries coloured green, orange or red according to their infection rate.

The information is available on the Re-Open EU website, where users can search for specific countries to see whether borders are open, and what restrictions may be in place, as well as links to the country’s epidemiological information.