Thousands of Italian protesters angry over new restrictions announced to control the spread of coronavirus clashed with police in cities on Monday as European governments sharpened their response to the infection.
After weekend demonstrations that saw violence in Italy, crowds ranging in size from several hundred to several thousand took to the streets again Monday night.
In Milan, several trams were vandalized and rubbish bins were burned, while anti-riot police fired tear gas at groups of young people throwing glass bottles and other projectiles, with similar scenes found in neighboring Turin and southern Naples.
The scene of unrest came after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the closure of restaurants and bars from 1 p.m. 18:00, while theaters, cinemas and gyms were ordered closed for a month – much to the annoyance of business owners, opposition politicians and even some researchers.
The violence in Italy, which introduced one of the hardest lockdowns in the first wave of infections in March and April, is likely to backfire around Europe, with governments weighing the need for tougher measures against fatigue and frustration, as many feel.
“There is no doubt that the European region is an epicenter of disease right now,” WHO Emergency Situations Director Michael Ryan said on Monday.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical expert on the pandemic, also expressed concern about the situation in Europe – and in particular an increase in hospital admissions and rapidly filling intensive care units.
“In many cities, we are seeing beds fill up too fast, and we are seeing many projections that say ICU beds will reach capacity in the coming days and weeks,” she told Monday’s briefing.
The Czech Republic said it would impose a curfew at night and mimic measures already in place in France and Spain, Slovenia introduced border closures, while even Norway, with one of Europe’s lowest infection rates, tightened its rules on social gatherings on Monday .
France is also backing tougher measures with President Emmanuel Macron, who is set to assemble his top ministers on Tuesday to review efforts to curb the outbreak, after the number of daily cases peaked at 50,000 for the first time over the weekend.
Some options that were reportedly considered included weekend breaks in high-infection areas, a previous curfew at night, or even another general nationwide home booking.
Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people and infected more than 43 million globally.
‘Around the corner’
The economic downturn remains severe, with tens of thousands of millions losing jobs and economies going around the world and politicians struggling to find answers.
US President Donald Trump, with his re-election campaign in full swing, was once again on the back foot after one of his senior officials suggested that his government would not control the virus – comments seized by challenger Joe Biden.
“We are just around the corner,” Trump said, denying abandoning the virus battle, even as his country broke its own dismal record for new daily affairs over the weekend.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that “giving up control of the pandemic was” dangerous “.
Wall Street had its worst session in weeks on Monday, driven by rising virus cases globally that could mean new business-suffocating containment measures as well as the worsening prospects for new stimulus for the US economy.
Despite months of tough talks, it looks like there is little chance Republicans and Democrats will hammer a rescue deal to help Americans tighten money before the Nov. 3 election, with both sides blaming the other for dead ends.
In Italy, Prime Minister Conte told citizens on Monday that he hoped the new restrictions “would allow us to be more relaxed for Christmas”, but warned that “hugs and parties” would continue to be ruled out.
The newspapers came across the Prime Minister jokingly, with the front page of the Corriere della Sera with a cartoon Conte telling Santa: “Stop! We’ve brought a decree to save you!”
But restaurant and bar owners did not laugh. The early closing times mean that Italy’s busy aperitivo hour is gone, as are dinners out.
And Italy’s leading film directors wrote an open letter warning that by closing cinemas, the measures risked “endangering an entire sector”, and Italian conductor Riccardo Muti said the movement would harm people’s health.
Right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini said he was preparing a legal challenge, but WHO adviser to Rome Walter Ricciardi said the new rules might “not be enough” to stop the virus.
The street violence in Italy was reflected in Nigeria, where crowds ransacked warehouses in the capital Abuja, delivering supplies earmarked for distribution during coronavirus lockouts.
“We are hungry, you see,” a man with a packet of noodles in his hand told AFP. “We do not steal, it is our food and our right.”
Australia delivered a small dose of good news on Monday, with the other city of Melbourne not registering daily cases and preparing to leave one of the world’s most serious lockdowns.
City residents have been on home orders for nearly four months, but as new cases dropped dramatically, state politicians had been under pressure to repeal the measures.