Spain has declared a national state of emergency and a curfew for the entire country, except the Canary Islands, to curb a second wave of coronavirus cases.
The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
The new state of emergency will last until early May, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised speech.
“The situation we are going through is extreme,” he stressed.
The measures were agreed earlier yesterday at a two-and-a-half-hour cabinet meeting convened following calls from Spanish regions for the power to impose curfews themselves.
A government statement said the overnight curfew would run from 11pm until 6am, currently 2200 GMT to 0500 GMT.
While the state of emergency would initially last for just 15 days, the government planned to ask parliament to extend it for six months, the statement added.
Sanchez nonetheless said that if conditions allowed, the measures could be lifted earlier than anticipated.
“The state of emergency is the most effective tool to lower the rate of infection,” he argued.
On Wednesday, Spain became the first European country to record more than 1mn cases of the virus, and almost 35,000 people have died from it.
Authorities were responding to calls for help from 10 Spanish regions and the city of Melilla, the government statement said.
Under the state of emergency, the regions would have the power to limit movement in and out of their territories, and could also extend the curfew by an hour on either end depending on local conditions.
Spain was locked down during an initial state of emergency that lasted from March 15 to June 21, and the measures were among the strictest anywhere in Europe.
Sanchez said that he sought “at any price” to avoid a second severe lockdown.
“Let’s stay home as much as possible,” he urged in the television address. “The more we stay home the more protected we and others will be.”
Meanwhile, Italy ordered nightspots and restaurants to close by 6pm and shut public gyms, cinemas and swimming pools to try to halt a rapid resurgence in the coronavirus that has pushed daily infection rates to new records.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the measures were aimed at protecting both public health and the economy and should bring the rising curve of the epidemic under control in the next few weeks to allow a “serene” Christmas.
“We think we will suffer a bit this month but by gritting our teeth with these restrictions, we’ll be able to breathe again in December,” he told a news conference, promising that sectors hit by the measures would be compensated.
Italy, once the European country hardest hit by the pandemic, has been overtaken by Spain, France and Britain, but infection rates have been rebounding rapidly and health services have come under increasing pressure.
Underlining the spread of the disease, spokesmen for both Conte and President Sergio Mattarella said they had tested positive for the virus.
Conte’s spokesman, Rocco Casalino, said in a statement that he had last seen Conte on Tuesday at which time they had worn masks and maintained social distancing.
The new measures, which take effect today, follow two nights of protests in Naples and Rome against curfews ordered in several regions last week.
Aware of the huge cost of shutting down the economy, the government hopes to avoid the blanket lockdown ordered in the first phase of the crisis.
But it has been forced to ratchet up restrictions steadily as the pandemic has raced ahead.
The decree encourages people not to go out and to limit contacts at home with anyone outside their immediate family, but does not impose a nationwide curfew and allows shops and most businesses to stay open.
However, as well as early closing, bars and restaurants will be subject to a series of controls to limit contagion, while cinemas and theatres as well as trade fairs will be shut.
The decree also directs that up to three-quarters of high school teaching should be online to limit the number of pupils in school buildings.
Yesterday the authorities reported a new record daily total of 21,273 infections, as well as 128 deaths.
The protests in Naples and Rome, while limited, underlined the tense political climate facing Conte who won praise for his handling of the initial phase of the crisis.
However he has come under increasing fire for failing to strengthen preparations including testing and contact tracing over the summer.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Switzerland have issued a call for medically-trained volunteers and recently retired staff to help tackle a record number of coronavirus patients anticipated in the coming days.
Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) said the number of coronavirus patients was expected to be “far higher” than at the peak of the pandemic’s first wave in March.
Geneva, Switzerland’s second-biggest city, is home to many international institutions, including the United Nations.
According to the latest figures released on Friday by the Swiss health ministry, 5,057 new cases of the respiratory disease were registered in Geneva over the previous 14 days – an incidence of 1,012.5 per 100,000 people.
Cases, hospitalisations and deaths in Switzerland have doubled from one week to the next throughout October.
The government is expected to decide on Wednesday on new measures to control the spread of the virus.
“Faced with the rapid and continuous increase in the number of hospitalisations of Covid-19-positive patients, the HUG is looking for voluntary medical, nursing and administrative staff to strengthen and relieve their teams,” the group said in a statement.
They are also calling on recently retired employees or those who are on unpaid leave to come forward.
“It is highly likely that the peak of 550 hospitalised Covid-positive patients that we recorded during the first wave will be greatly exceeded in the coming days,” said HUG director-general Bertrand Levrat. “We anticipate that the number of beds and professionals needed to treat Covid and non-Covid patients will be far higher than what we experienced this spring.”
There are currently 296 coronavirus patients in Geneva hospitals – almost triple the number 10 days ago.
In March, during the first wave of infections, Switzerland was not hit as hard by Covid-19 deaths and did not impose as strict a lockdown as some other European states.
From nearly no new cases at the beginning of June, infections rose slowly but steadily before rocketing in October.
On Friday, 6,592 new cases were announced in the daily Swiss update, taking the total throughout the pandemic over the 100,000 mark to 103,323.
Switzerland – population 8.5mn – has so far recorded 1,876 deaths from the coronavirus.
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