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AFP
August 15, 2020

Spain closes discos, bans smoking in the street in new virus measures

World

AFP
August 15, 2020

MADRID: Spain said on Friday it was closing discos and banning smoking in the street without social distancing, as it stepped up restrictions to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Health Minister Salvador Illa unveiled a raft of new measures to be enforced nationwide after as the country battles a surge in the disease, with nearly 3,000 new cases in 24 hours reported on Thursday.

In a bid to rein in the spread of Covid-19, discos, night clubs and dancing halls will be shut, restaurants and bars will be required to close by 1:00 am, with no new guests allowed in from midnight.

The ban on smoking on the street -- which is in line with World Health Organization recommendations -- is already in place in two of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, Galicia and the Canary Islands.

In retirement homes, visits will be limited and all new residents must be tested for the virus when they are admitted. Regional authorities will be required to carry out testing among groups of the population that are particularly at risk, and in the built-up areas hard hit by the disease, but the health ministry gave no timetable for these measures to come into force.

A total of 28,605 people have died so far from coronavirus in Spain, which declared a state of emergency between March 14 and June 21 that allowed the central government to impose restrictions nationwide. With the state of emergency subsequently lifted, autonomy has been handed back to the regional authorities.

The health ministry has had to negotiate with them to impose the new measures on a nationwide basis. Spain has a population of 47 million and the infection rate of 110 cases per 100,000 inhabitants is higher than in other European countries.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended a lockdown in New Zealand’s largest city on Friday, giving health authorities more time to trace and contain a strain of coronavirus previously unseen in the country.

Ardern said stay-at-home orders would remain in force across Auckland until August 26 in a bid to prevent a mystery outbreak from becoming a fully-blown second wave. Genomic tests indicated the latest infections were not the same strain of coronavirus recorded in New Zealand earlier this year.

"This suggests it’s not a case of the virus being dormant, or of burning embers in our community, it appears to be new to New Zealand," Ardern said. She added that tests were also unable to link the outbreak to any cases among quarantined travellers from overseas.

Since four people tested positive on Tuesday -- the first cases of community transmission in 102 days -- New Zealand has now detected a cluster of 30 virus cases. Amid speculation that the virus could have been brought in via freight, Ardern admitted the source of the strain may never be found.

But she said it was likely the outbreak had been detected early and expressed hope that it could still be held back. "We don’t necessarily need to answer that question in order to contain and deal with this cluster effectively," she said.

Ardern praised the 1.5 million residents of New Zealand’s biggest city as carrying a "heavy load" for the nation’s wellbeing. "Lifting restrictions now and seeing a potential explosion in cases is the worst thing we would do for Auckland and the New Zealand economy," she said.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said earlier that two cases had been detected outside Auckland despite the lockdown. But he played down fears that the failure to ring-fence infections meant the virus was destined to spread countrywide.

"The cases so far are connected, they are all part of one Auckland-based cluster, that’s good news," he said. The prospect of new wave of infections has rattled New Zealanders, who have come to regard the remote South Pacific nation as a transmission-free haven over the past three months. Wellington resident Barbara Pond described the situation as "heartbreaking". "I’m so sick of hearing about Covid," she said.