The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide exceeded 40 million on Monday, as new measures to combat the spread of the virus came into force in several European countries.
Belgium imposes a nationwide curfew overnight from Monday, and Switzerland has made the use of face masks mandatory in indoor public spaces, the latest measures by European governments to combat a strong second coronavirus wave.
The latest increase in cases sent the total registered worldwide past 40 million on Monday morning, according to an AFP statement based on official sources. More than half of the case burden is in the three hardest hit countries: the United States, India and Brazil.
In Europe, more than 250,000 people have died, but the deepening crisis in contrast to Australia, where Melbourne, the second largest city, has begun to ease a lockdown that kept millions of people largely confined to their homes for months.
Cafes and restaurants across Belgium closed for four weeks as the country tackled its own level of infection, part of a continental strain that has seen a 44 per cent rise in cases across Europe in the past week.
“The situation is serious. It is worse than March 18, when the shutdown was decided,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television station RTL Info.
The curfew in Belgium came overnight days after France imposed a curfew in nine cities, including the metropolitan area of Paris. The curfew came when France hit a record 32,400 new infections on Saturday.
From Dave Keating from Jowharreported from Brussels that the restrictions in Belgium “are similar to those in France. But they are more severe in some areas, less severe in other areas. The curfew is nationwide here, not only in the larger cities, but it is only from midnight to 5 am, not from 9 pm to 6 pm as it is in France “.
Some companies have protested despite authorities warning that the country was in the midst of an exponential rise in cases.
“We do not feel considered and it hurts in my heart,” said Angelo Bussi, a restaurant manager in Brussels. “Everyone is in pain. It’s awful.”
‘Second wave is here’
Switzerland was largely spared when coronavirus emerged in China at the end of the year and swept the world.
However, infections have doubled in the affluent alpine nation in the last seven days, leading to new restrictions, including mandatory masking in public spaces indoors and restrictions on public gatherings.
“The second wave is here, earlier and stronger than we expected, but we are prepared,” Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters.
The canton of Bern also banned public events for more than a thousand people who want to hit professional football and hockey matches.
Meanwhile, Italy announced new curbs on Sunday night in response to its own snowballing second wave of infection, after enduring Europe’s first major eruption earlier this year.
“We can not waste time,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, highlighting bans on amateur team sports and previous closures of bars and restaurants.
The new measures were intended to avoid tougher measures that could “seriously jeopardize” continental Europe’s third-largest economy, already from a two-month nationwide lockdown that was only lifted in May.
‘I do what is safe’
An even longer shutdown began in Australia on Monday, with Melbourne’s five million residents being allowed to leave their homes for more than two hours a day for the first time since July.
Residents hurried back to reopened salons and golf courses that had been closed for more than 100 days, though restaurants and most other retail outlets will be closed until November at the earliest, as authorities monitor case numbers.
“I’m not doing what’s popular, I’m doing what’s safe, because we will not be back here again,” said Daniel Andrews, the Prime Minister of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital.
Israel has also lifted restrictions banning people from traveling more than a mile from their homes as well as closing kindergartens, beaches and national parks.
Israeli mother Talia Zinkin said she was initially unsure whether to send her son back to day care.
“But I felt he would enjoy being with other children,” she told AFP. “We have to try to live normally.”
The great mosque in Mecca is to be sterilized
Saudi Arabia eased several of its own virus restrictions as it allowed worshipers to re-enter Islam’s holiest site for prayers on Sunday for the first time since March.
The Great Mosque in Mecca is the site of the annual hajj pilgrimage, which attracts Muslims from all over the world, but only 10,000 people were allowed to attend this year, far from the 2.5 million who attended last year.
The structure will be sterilized before and after each group of worshipers, and thermal sensors will be installed to measure the pilgrim’s body temperature.
The veteran chief, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the latest political figure infected with the virus, is in a “critical” condition and in a medically induced coma, the Israeli hospital that treated him in Jerusalem said Monday.
( Jowharwith AFP and REUTERS)