Spain imposes national Covid curfew as global infection rates rise

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Spain declared a national state of emergency on Sunday to tackle another coronavirus wave as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a third day in a row of record-high infections worldwide.

France set a daily record of more than 50,000 Covid-19 cases, while Chinese officials began mass tests to cover 4.75 million people in the northwest after 137 new infections were discovered there.

In the United States, which has the world’s worst toll of about 225,000 deaths, challenger Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump’s administration of waving the “white flag of defeat” after his chief of staff Mark Meadows said: “We will not control the pandemic.”

The WHO has warned that some countries are on a “dangerous path”, with far too many witnessing an exponential rise in cases, and called on the authorities to take decisive action to curb the spread of the disease.

UN agency figures showed 465,319 cases were declared on Saturday alone, half of which were in Europe, which it said was at a particularly critical time with winter looming.

Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people and infected more than 42 million globally.

WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for global solidarity in a future rollout of any vaccine, warning that “vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic and not shorten it.”

As the disease continued its relentless march across Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced the new state of emergency and curfew overnight across the country except the Canary Islands.

Spain was the first EU country to pass the grim milestone in a million cases and has since been joined by its northern neighbor France.

“The situation we are going through is extreme,” Sanchez said.

‘It will destroy us’

Italy – the epicenter of the first European outbreak – also increased its restrictions on daily life, ordering the closure of theaters, cinemas and gyms and closing bars and restaurants early.

Governments are struggling to balance new restrictions on the need to revive economies already hit by previous draconian lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

But populations tired of social isolation and economic hardship have sprinkled the tougher measures.

“This will ruin us,” Augusto D’Alfonsi, owner of the family-run fish restaurant Torricella in Rome, told AFP after the new measures were announced.

“We have already lost 50 percent of our customers this year. Without state aid, we are done.”

Dozens of right-wing extremist protesters in Rome clashed with riot police overnight during a demonstration against curfews, setting off fireworks, burning trash cans and throwing projectiles.

Police in Berlin also staged a protest against curbs and launched an arson investigation into an attack on a building housing the public health agency.

There has also been opposition to tighter curbs in Spain, but some said they accepted the need for control.

“The curfew is good for those who drink a lot on the streets recently, because at our age people go out a lot, they are out of control, and what happens then,” says 17-year-old student Juan Pelayo in the town of Valladolid.

Retired Jose Benitez, 76, said in Barcelona: “It’s starting to worry me, because if I catch it at my age, I won’t.”

‘Turn this thing up’

The U.S. remains the hardest-hit country on the planet, and on Saturday it set a daily record for new Covid-19 cases for the second straight day, nearly 89,000, with a further increase expected when cold weather arrives.

The virus has become a key issue ahead of the November 3 election, with Biden and Trump sparring over the president’s handling of the pandemic.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, the latest in a list of figures linked to the Trump administration to do so.

“The idea that this White House has somehow done anything but screw up this thing completely is nonsense,” said Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, who hit the campaign track Saturday to fight for Biden, his former deputy.

After the United States, the hardest hit countries are Brazil, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom, while Colombia is the latest country to register one million confirmed coronavirus cases.

The disease has not spared politicians as Bulgaria’s prime minister became a member of a growing list of leaders who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Covid-19 also hits festive events.

In Germany, Frankfurt became the latest city to cancel its traditional Christmas market.

It usually attracts more than two million visitors who come to sip mulled wine, sip roasted chestnuts and buy seasonal trinkets among a cluster of wooden huts.

(AFP)