European governments moved on Tuesday to launch new clampdowns to try to rein in a fresh Covid-19 surge amid protests by people tired of the curbs.
World leaders face an increasingly difficult task holding the disease at bay while keeping their economies afloat as they pin their hopes on as-yet unproven vaccines.
The US, Russia, France, Sweden, Poland and other countries have registered record numbers of infections in recent days as autumn turns to winter in the Northern Hemisphere and people socialise indoors where the risk of infection is higher.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets across Italy on Monday to vent their anger at the latest round of restrictions, including early closing for bars and restaurants, with demonstrations in some cities turning violent.
In Milan, youths hurled petrol bombs at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas. In nearby Turin, luxury shops had their windows smashed and some were ransacked, leading to the arrest of 10 rioters.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was expected to approve measures to help companies hit by the new curbs introduced at the weekend after daily infections increased eightfold in less than a month.
In France, interior minister Gerald Darmanin warned the country to prepare for “difficult decisions” after some of the strictest restrictions currently in place anywhere in Europe have failed to halt the spread of the disease.
The Czech government will ask lawmakers to extend its emergency powers until December 3, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday, as it tries to stem one of the strongest surges in infections in Europe.
There have been at least 8.54 million reported infections and 251,000 deaths caused by coronavirus in Europe so far, according to latest Reuters data. The continent registered a record 230,892 new cases on October 26, up from 67,739 on October 1.
Authorities in Russia, which with 1.55 million infections has the world’s fourth largest Covid-19 case load, ordered people to wear facemasks in some public places and asked regional authorities to consider shutting bars and restaurants overnight.
Even Germany, widely praised for its initial response to the pandemic, signalled concern on Tuesday over rising infections, with officials saying the country was likely to reach 20,000 cases a day by the end of this week.
Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said the European Union’s open borders might even need to be shut down again to “take the heat out of this phase of the pandemic.”
“There’s no question that the European region is an epicentre of disease right now,” he said.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said even more stringent measures should be applied to stop the virus. “If it’s let go freely, it can create havoc, especially when we don’t have vaccines at hand.”
Iran on Tuesday again hit a record single-day Covid-19 death toll, reporting 346 new deaths. That brings the country’s total fatalities to 33,299. Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said that daily new coronavirus cases have also hit a record, with 6,968 reported. That brings Iran’s total number of infections to 581,824.
The remote Kashgar area of China’s Xinjiang region reported 164 asymptomatic Covid-19 cases until Monday night, as a rapid mass testing campaign for over 4.75 million people is underway.
All the positive results were traced to the Shufu county of Kashgar prefecture where a 17-year-old girl had tested positive over the weekend