Published: 11:19, August 27, 2020 | Updated: 18:58, June 5, 2023
France eyes lockdown as last resort in Europe’s virus fight
By Agencies

In this file photograph taken on August 24, 2020, French soldiers of the Sentinelle security operation wearing face masks patrol as a near-empty tourist bus passes by on Trocadero Square in Paris. Tourism in Paris, one of the world's most visited cities, has plunged due to the coronavirus, sparking fears of mass closures for thousands of businesses that rely on eager visitors from home and abroad, its senior regional official said August 27, 2020. (LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

NEW YORK / LONDON / BUENOS AIRES / CAIRO / SANTIAGO / WARSAW / TRIPOLI - France is ready to institute a new national lockdown as a last resort as Europe grapples with how to contain the resurgent coronavirus.

Plans to restrict movement are ready, but the country will do everything possible to avoid measures that clobbered the economy in the second quarter, France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday

Plans to restrict movement are ready, but the country will do everything possible to avoid measures that clobbered the economy in the second quarter, France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

“The epidemic is gaining ground, and we need to intervene now,” Castex said, rejecting the need for broad restrictions. “This doesn’t mean the situation is as serious as it was” earlier this year.

Europe’s leaders are struggling with how to respond to the latest developments in the pandemic, wary of sweeping measures that could hobble recovering economies. There’s little appetite for harsh lockdowns, as current data indicate the outbreak is becoming less deadly -- at least for now.

France’s new restrictions are to be targeted at specific locations where contagion rates are more severe, such as Paris, where people will be required to wear masks outside. Marseille, France’s second largest city, has made masks mandatory everywhere and bars and restaurants have to close by 11 pm

Local authorities were better placed to propose measures to contain the spread and react to specific outbreaks, Castex said.

The approach is similar in Spain. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday that another lockdown is not on the table, putting the response in the hands of regional authorities.

Across Europe, outbreaks since mid-July have been fueled by summer-time social gatherings and lax social distancing among young adults. Many of the new cases in Italy involve younger vacationers returning either from within the country or from abroad.

While the number of hospitalized and deaths has remained well below the levels seen during the pandemic peak in spring, the concern is that the disease hits more elderly and other vulnerable people in the coming weeks.

Global tally

Global COVID-19 cases surpassed 24 million on Wednesday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The global case count reached 24,000,302, with a total of 821,654 deaths worldwide as of 3:28 p.m. local time (1928 GMT), the CSSE data showed.

The United States has suffered the most from the pandemic, with 5,807,480 cases and 179,235 fatalities, followed by Brazil with 3,669,995 cases and 116,580 deaths. India confirmed more than 3.2 million cases

Latin America

Latin American countries should guarantee universal access to the internet to counter the negative impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, especially on education and equality, a United Nations agency said on Wednesday.

The UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based in Santiago, Chile, is recommending countries provide a "basic basket of Information and Communications Technologies for all households," estimating the initiative would cost less than 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Such a basket would include a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet and a connection plan for households that are not connected, ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena told reporters at a press conference presenting the agency's latest special report on the effects of the pandemic.

Called "Universalizing access to digital technologies to address the consequences of COVID-19," the report highlights the way digital technologies have allowed economies and societies to keep functioning during the health crisis.

Sweden

Sweden’s national health agency has proposed raising the limit on certain public gatherings to 500 from 50 owing to a stabilization in Covid-19 infection rates.

“We have made a consultation response following a request from the government,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told reporters in Stockholm.

The agency, which continues to steer the country’s virus response, said the proposal applies to events with numbered seats.

Tegnell also signaled a further increase of the gathering limit was under consideration. “The outcome will be evaluated after a month or so, to see if you can raise the bar further,” he said.

The potential easing of restrictions comes at a time when the pace of new infections and deaths in Sweden has slowed markedly compared to the end of June. On Thursday, Sweden reported a total of 5,820 deaths from the virus and 83,898 cases.

But its mortality rate, at about 57 per 100,000, remains among the highest in the world and many more times than in neighboring Denmark and Norway.

Poland

Poland will shorten its quarantine period for those suspected of being infected with coronavirus to 10 days from 14 days, the health minister said on Thursday, amid a spike in new daily cases.

“We will change the rules for quarantine and isolation... We would like to propose the shortening of quarantine to 10 days,” health minister Adam Niedzielski told a press conference.

Poland has recorded 64,689 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,010 deaths.

US

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has changed its COVID-19 testing guidelines, no longer recommending testing for most people without symptoms.

Anthony Fauci, the top US top infectious disease doctor, told CNN that he is concerned that the CDC’s new coronavirus testing guidelines will make people believe “that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern, when in fact it is.”

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassed 5.8 million on Wednesday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The US case count rose to 5,800,472, with the national death toll reaching 179,150 as of 2:28 p.m. local time (1828 GMT), according to the CSSE.

The hardest-hit U.S. state of California reported 684,128 cases, followed by Florida with 608,722 cases, Texas with 605,269 cases, and New York with 431,340 cases, the tally showed.

France

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday the government needs to intervene to contain the new coronavirus outbreak spread as the virus was circulating widely among young people.

Castex also told a news conference that Health Minister Olivier Veran will start holding weekly news briefings over the COVID-19 situation in the country.

France reported 5,429 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, a four-month high that comes after similarly important surges in recent days. Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a press conference on Thursday to address the health situation as infections rise.

Germany

Germany may extend a ban on major events until the end of the year as part of a package of measures to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, a draft document showed, ahead of a meeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel with state leaders.

The German federal government has extended its travel warning for more than 160 non-European Union (EU) and non-Schengen area countries and regions due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

The travel warning, which also applies to the United Kingdom, would remain in effect until Sept. 14, according to the government. The previous travel warning is set to run out on Aug. 31.

The travel warnings currently in force apply to more than 160 countries and regions, but only slightly more than 130 of these have been classified as risk areas by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's public health agency.

Germany's COVID-19 cases rose by 1,507 within one day to 237,936, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Thursday.

The death toll rose by five to 9,285.

"Almost half of the registered cases with us come from back-home travelers, meaning imported from abroad," Lars Schaade, RKI's vice president, said last week.

READ MORE: 20 African countries shut borders completely to fight COVID-19

Greece

Greece reported a record-high 293 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 9280. The number is the highest daily increase since the beginning of the pandemic. The average age of people who tested positive is 39. The country also recorded five new deaths, bringing the total to 248.

Italy

Italy recorded 1,367 new cases Wednesday, the highest number in three months and a half, on the day the government ruled out a new lockdown.

Many of the new infections involve Italians returning from vacations either within the country or abroad. The Lombardy region said two out of three of the latest cases are holidaymakers returning from outside of Italy.

In response to the surge, Italy is ramping up testing in ports and airports, with a record 93,529 tests carried out Wednesday. Still, the health minister said the country is ruling out a new nationwide lockdown.

Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet chief has been quarantined until he tests negative for the coronavirus, after he attended a private event last Saturday where a participant tested positive for the disease, Orban’s office said on Thursday.

The first test of cabinet chief Gergely Gulyas was negative, the office said in a statement on state news agency MTI. A state secretary working in Orban’s office, Balazs Orban, has also been quarantined since Wednesday.

The office said Gulyas could leave quarantine and attend a government meeting on Friday only if his second COVID test proves negative as well.

Hungary recorded 91 new infections on Thursday, the highest figure since April, with total cases at 5,379. Hungary had 614 deaths caused by the disease.

A medic performs a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test on an arriving traveler at the Covid-19 test center at Schiphol Airport, operated by the Royal Schiphol Group NV, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Aug 17, 2020. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

Russia

Russia reported 4,711 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, bringing its nationwide tally to 975,576, the fourth largest caseload in the world.

Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 121 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing its official death toll to 16,804.

Moscow is inviting all its residents to participate in Phase 3 testing of a COVID-19 vaccine that was approved for use earlier this month, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his blog Wednesday.

Russia approved the use of the Sputnik V vaccine, which Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute is developing with the sovereign Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Defense Ministry, before it finished clinical trials. The testing will continue even as medical workers are vaccinated. Many members of the local elite, including one of President Vladimir Putin’s daughters, have already been inoculated.

Finland

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Finland now exceeds 8,000, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said on Wednesday.

New cases are rising faster in the country than at the beginning of July, but the infection numbers are still relatively low, the THL said.

ALSO READ: Some tourists confused by new COVID-19 mask rules in Paris

Brazil

Brazil reported 47,161 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,086 deaths from the disease caused by the virus in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazil has registered 3,717,156 cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 117,666, according to ministry data, in the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak outside the United States. 

Argentina 

Argentina posted a record daily rise of 10,550 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the health ministry said, taking the total caseload to 370,188 as the country struggles to rein in the spread of infections while trying to ease open its crisis-hit economy.

The grains producer, which imposed a strict lockdown in March that initially helped slow the spread of the virus, is now fast catching up with other hard-hit countries in the region, including neighbor Chile where new infections have slowed.

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported a total of 402,365 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and 10,990 deaths from the disease.

According to the ministry, in the previous 24 hours, tests detected 1,371 new cases and 32 more patients died.

Of the new infections, 993 people reported symptoms and 316 were asymptomatic. No information was available on the remaining 62 cases.

Chilean health authorities also reported 376,268 people have recovered from the disease while 15,107 confirmed cases are considered to be still active.

Dominican Republic

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Dominican Republic rose to 92,557 on Wednesday after tests detected 340 new infections in the previous 24 hours.

The COVID-19 death toll climbed to 1,613 after 28 more patients died of the disease in the same period, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Of the confirmed active cases, 7,329 are in hospital isolation and 20,137 in self-quarantine at home.

Ecuador

Ecuador's Ministry of Public Health reported on Wednesday that 1,519 new cases and 42 more deaths from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 110,549 and the death toll to 6,410.

The capital city of Quito in the Pichincha province has reported the majority of new cases, with a total of 20,853 infections as of Wednesday.

The Guayas province, former epicenter of the outbreak in the country, has the second highest number of cases, with 18,632 infections.

South Africa

South Africa published the names of all companies that won coronavirus-related government contracts in a bid to crack down on corruption, making it the first country on the continent to do so.

The move comes as a graft scandal related to procurement of medical equipment that implicated staff in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s own office sullies the reputation of the ruling African National Congress. Earlier this week Ramaphosa wrote to ANC members, warning them that the allegations are tarnishing its image.

The list, released by the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, details Covid-19 procurement information from all provinces, national departments and more than 70 public entities, according to a statement from the Presidency on Wednesday. Ramaphosa told the departments earlier this month to submit any information on coronavirus-related tenders to a special ministerial team.

“This measure is unprecedented, and a clear demonstration of government’s commitment to transparency and accountability when it comes to allegations of corruption,” Ramaphosa said in the statement.

South Africa has 615,701 confirmed coronavirus and 13,502 deaths. It may sign a deal to help produce a COVID-19 vaccine, potentially boosting access to immunization on a continent with limited manufacturing capacity.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global organization funding vaccine development, is considering the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute as a fill-finish site, according to Helen Rees, the chair of the organization’s Scientific Advisory Board.

The state vaccine company is one of few in the country that has the capacity to package doses into sterile dispensers if clinical trials are successful.

Morocco 

Morocco on Wednesday reported 1,336 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country since March 2 to 55,864.

The death toll rose by 29 to 984, said Mouad Mrabet, coordinator of the Moroccan Center for Public Health Operations at the Ministry of Health, at a press briefing.

Libya 

Libya’s Tripoli-based government has announced a 24-hour curfew to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus as it struggles to contain protests over deteriorating living conditions and corruption.

The curfew, which took effect on Wednesday night, was imposed by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) three days after protests in the capital and the nearby town of Zawiya began to escalate.

The decision exempts people who need to go out for essential food or medicine at nearby shops, but it angered protest supporters who posted messages online saying it was designed to prevent further demonstrations.

Some defied the order on Wednesday night and went to central Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square, where they were confronted by armed groups with military vehicles that dispersed them by force, according to an witness and videos posted on social media.

On Thursday the GNA interior ministry said it was ready to protect protesters from armed groups and “mobs”. It earlier said it supported the right to peaceful protest, and blamed violence around demonstrations on Sunday on “infiltrators”.

The National Center for Disease Control of Libya on Wednesday reported 553 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country so far to 11,834.

The center said in a statement that it received a total of 2,094 suspected samples, of which 553 were tested positive, adding that 40 patients have recovered and seven died.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Libya is 11,834, including 1,152 recoveries and 210 deaths, the center confirmed.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 45,221 after 1,533 new COVID-19 positive cases were confirmed on Wednesday, the country's Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said in a statement that 16 more patients succumbed to illnesses related to the COVID-19 pandemic during the past 24-hours period, which brought the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the East African country to 725.

According to the ministry, some 16,311 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 had recovered, including 515 in the last 24-hour period.