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France prepares for curfew in Paris and other cities as Covid-19 cases surge

France is preparing for a curfew coming into force in Paris and other cities starting at midnight on Friday to curb an alarming rise in coronavirus infections, a day after the country hit a new high of 30,000 cases recorded in the previous 24 hours. 

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The government offered details on Thursday of tough new measures aimed at stemming the Covid-19 surge, including a nationwide ban on large private gatherings such as weddings. Shops and public places will be shut in Covid-19 hotspots after 9pm local time, although French Prime Minister Jean Castex said there would be exemptions for establishments providing emergency services such as health care or restaurants doing deliveries.

“All private parties such as weddings or student parties that are held in public halls, multipurpose rooms or any other public venues will be prohibited,” Castex said. 

Residents will be able to go out after curfew for work or pre-booked journeys only if they have an authorisation document, Castex added. Authorisations can be downloaded from the government website and printed or kept on a mobile phone. They can also be hand-written for those who do not have internet access.

France is the latest European country to toughen anti-coronavirus measures, imposing a curfew in Paris and eight other cities from midnight while Germany and Ireland also ramped up restrictions.

“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” President Emmanuel Macron told public television on Wednesday, announcing a shutdown between 9pm and 6am that could remain in force for a month or as long as six weeks.

Other major French cities such as Lyon, the Mediterranean port of Marseille and southwestern Toulouse will similarly impose curfews, with around 20 million people affected in all out of a total population of some 67 million.

Coronavirus in France: Parisians react to Macron’s announcements

Macron‘s government also said it would prolong a state of emergency imposed due to the health crisis.

With more than 1 million coronavirus deaths and nearly 40 million cases worldwide, regions like Europe that suppressed the first outbreak are again facing tough choices on how to control a new wave without the economic devastation wrought by nationwide lockdowns.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called on Parisians to respect the measures and “remain united”. “Faced with the heavy circulation of #Covid_19 in France and in Paris, we must remain united and apply the measures announced by the President of the Republic, even if they are harsh. It is a new ordeal, and we will face it, together and in solidarity with caregivers”, she tweeted.

Marine Le Pen, head of France’s far-right party Rassemblement National, on the other hand, deemed Macron’s announcements regarding “financial aid to the affected sectors must be broader, faster, less complex than those implemented so far. Thousands of businesses will not survive without massive and immediate support”, she tweeted.

Worsening situation

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced tougher measures on gatherings and mask-wearing.

“I am convinced that what we do now will be decisive for how we come through this pandemic,” she said.

New infections in Germany continued to rise on Wednesday, pushing past 5,000 cases in 24 hours – a level not seen since a lockdown imposed on Europe’s biggest economy in the spring.

“We’re in a situation where I think we can still flatten the exponential growth,” said Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s disease control agency. “But for that we all need to make an effort.”

France’s Macron announces curfew in Paris and 8 other cities to curb Covid-19 infections rise

In Spain, bars and restaurants will close across the northeastern region of Catalonia for the next 15 days as the country tackles one of the highest rates of infection in the European Union, with nearly 900,000 cases and more than 33,000 deaths.

In the Netherlands, where new measures also came into force, including restrictions on alcohol sales and new mask requirements, people drank and danced to pumping techno music in the final minutes before all bars, restaurants and cannabis “coffeeshops” closed down. 

Ireland‘s Prime Minister Micheal Martin announced a raft of new measures along the border with the British province of Northern Ireland, including the closure of non-essential retail outlets, gyms, pools and leisure centres.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government announced plans to shut pubs and restaurants for four weeks, tighten restrictions on social gatherings and extend the mid-term school break to counter soaring case numbers there.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also under increasing pressure to impose more stringent measures to cut spiralling rates in England, including a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown.

Johnson said a new UK-wide lockdown would be a “disaster” but refused to rule it out as the government’s science advisory committee endorsed a temporary shutdown.

And in Italy, authorities recorded 7,332 new cases on Wednesday – the highest daily count the hard-hit country has yet seen.

Rome has already imposed new, tougher rules to control the virus’s resurgence, including an end to parties, amateur football matches and snacking at bars at night.

Beyond Europe, the US death toll rose by 794 in a day to 216,597, according to Johns Hopkins University, with just three weeks before a crucial election in which the pandeic plays a central role.

Another 52,160 had become infected in the past 24 hours, an increase of 0.7 percent.

Iran on Wednesday announced new travel restrictions affecting the capital Tehran and four other major cities, as well as new single-day records in both Covid-19 deaths and new infections.

Neighbouring Iraq’s death toll since the start of the pandemic passed 10,000 people.

At least 1,089,039 people worldwide have died of the coronavirus since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late in 2019, according to an AFP tally using official figures. At least 38.3 million cases have been recorded around the world.

In online talks, G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed to extend a moratorium on debt repayments by the world’s poorest countries for a further six months and trailed another prolongation in spring.

The virtual talks, hosted by current G20 president Saudi Arabia, came a day after the International Monetary Fund warned that global GDP would contract 4.4 percent in 2020 and the damage inflicted by the pandemic would be felt for years.

Even as Europe imposed new restrictions the hope for a vaccine suffered a blow, with the suspension of two clinical trials in the United States.

US pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly said Tuesday it had suspended the Phase 3 trial of its antibody treatment over an unspecified incident, the second in less than 24 hours after Johnson & Johnson ran into a similar problem with its vaccine candidate.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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