Europe took a step closer to the stringent restrictions imposed during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic as leaders struggle regain control of the spread.
Italy introduced its strongest virus restrictions since the end of a lockdown in May, and Spain will impose new measures, including a nationwide curfew. Germany will discuss its next steps on Monday, when Chancellor Angela Merkel convenes her crisis task force.
Cases have surged to record levels across Europe in recent days, and authorities are confronting increasing opposition to restrictions on movement. Italy’s new rules come into effect on Monday amid protests by the hardest-hit sectors, including restaurants and cinemas. In Naples, demonstrators plan to gather Monday evening in a central square after violence erupted over the weekend.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte approved a plan to limit opening hours for bars and restaurants, and shut entertainment, gambling venues and gyms. Italians will also be urged not to travel. The measures will remain in effect until Nov. 24.
“We must manage the pandemic without being overwhelmed,” Conte said at a press conference in Rome on Sunday. “If we respect the rules this month, we’ll keep the curve under control and face December and the holiday season with more serenity.”
Conte is preparing a new 5 billion-euro ($5.9 billion) relief package which is set to be approved by Tuesday, Italian daily La Repubblica reported.
Italy’s government is running out of options to avoid a full lockdown. New infections rose to a record 21,273 on Sunday and there are now more than 1,200 people being treated in intensive care units for the virus.
Spain: state of emergency
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet on Sunday approved a state of emergency and announced a national curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., except in the Canary Islands, where the infection rate is low. Regional administrations have leeway to slightly change the timing of the curfew, said Sanchez, who will discuss Spain’s virus response with the country’s 17 regional presidents and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in virtual talks on Monday.
Italy and Spain had managed to tamp down the initial outbreak with some of the world’s strictest lockdowns. The easing of measures before the summer travel season contributed to a new wave of cases in the region, where more than 200,000 people have died from the disease.
Sanchez also delegated to local authorities the power to limit travel in their regions. Spain has a highly decentralized political system and regional administrations have oversight on many policies.
The premier said he will ask Spain’s parliament to approve an extension of the state of emergency through May 9. Lawmakers are expected to vote on it as soon as this week. An extension through May would allow Sanchez to avoid repeatedly seeking approval for restrictions as he was obligated to do during during Spain’s lockdown earlier this year.
“Why six months? Because that’s the amount of time that experts expect we need not only to move beyond this second wave, in which we are immersed, but also to move beyond the most harmful stage of the pandemic,” Sanchez said in a nationally televised address.
In Germany, Merkel will chair a meeting of her special “coronavirus cabinet” after infections surged to fresh highs in recent days. The chancellor warned of “very, very difficult months” ahead during a weekend conference call with officials from her CDU party, according to local media.
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