MADRID: Large parts of Europe on Friday geared up for broad new restrictions to stop the coronavirus and Israel became the first developed country to enforce a second nationwide shutdown, as infections worldwide topped the 30-million mark.
Spain was set to unveil a raft of restrictions as officials in Madrid warned the capital had been overwhelmed by the virus and called for "decisive" action from central government. Santiago Usoz, a medic working at accident and emergency in Madrid’s October 12 hospital, told AFP there was a lack of both beds and staff.
"Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients," he said. Britain’s government meanwhile warned on Friday that it could reimpose a national lockdown, noting rates of hospitalisation are doubling every eight days, and France prepared to roll out new curbs for major cities.
Almost 950,000 people have now died from the virus since it first emerged in China late last year, with Europe accounting for almost a quarter of those fatalities.
The World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said a surge seen this month "should serve as a wake-up call" after the continent recorded 54,000 infections in a single day last week -- a new record.
"Although the numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region," Kluge told an online news conference from Copenhagen. Meanwhile, Israel imposed a three-week nationwide shutdown from 2:00 pm (1100 GMT) on Friday hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 metres of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur. "The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed," said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.
"And all this for what? For nothing!" Anxiety has been growing in Madrid about the prospect of a return to lockdown after a top regional health official on Wednesday raised the possibility.
"It would be bad for shops, for small businesses and little bars that survive on people coming in," said 55-year-old Maribel Quesada. In Britain, new curbs took effect on Friday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that pubs may have to close earlier to help avoid a "second hump" of infections.
About two million people in northeast England will no longer be allowed to meet people outside their homes and entertainment venues are obliged to shut early. The government had already imposed rules across England on Monday limiting socialising to groups of six or fewer, as daily cases reached levels not seen since early May.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday that the government could reimpose a national lockdown. "We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods," he said.
Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan said that the city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display, which annually attracts tens of thousands of people, will not go ahead. French authorities are also preparing tighter restrictions in several cities to curtail a resurgence that has seen nearly 10,000 new cases each day for the past week.
Health minister Olivier Veran said Lyon and Nice would be under new rules by Saturday, after curbs on public gatherings were imposed this week in Bordeaux and Marseille. Italy, meanwhile, said it would partially reopen stadiums to allow up to 1,000 fans at open air sports events from Sunday.
Anger is growing over how governments worldwide have responded to the virus. British officials faced stinging criticism this week over the failure of its test and trace system -- described as "world-beating" by the government.
Music legend Van Morrison said on Friday he had recorded three "protest songs" against the UK government’s coronavirus lockdown measures. The Northern Irish singer-songwriter has called the new tracks "Born To Be Free", "As I Walked Out" and "No More Lockdown".
Some governments are facing legal action from citizens for alleged failures. A French association of virus victims plans to file a legal complaint against Prime Minister Jean Castex, its lawyer said.
Cases have also been filed in China by bereaved relatives but many have had them rejected and dozens of others face pressure from authorities not to file, according to people involved. Families of victims accuse the governments in Wuhan and Hubei province, where the pandemic first emerged, of concealing the outbreak when it first emerged, failing to alert the public, and bungling the response.
"They say the epidemic was a natural calamity. But these serious outcomes are man-made, and you need to find who’s to blame," said pensioner Zhong Hanneng, whose son died with the virus. "Our family is shattered," she added. "I can never be happy again." Meanwhile, the virus continues to turn the world of entertainment upside down.
In the United States, which has the highest number of recorded cases, this year’s Emmys honouring the best in television -- the first major awards show in Hollywood since the coronavirus crisis began -- will be held online.At the epicentre of an explosion of new infections in Spain, the Madrid region was to unveil on Friday a string of tough restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.