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Millions across Europe face greater restrictions on their movement over the weekend, with Italy ready new steps and London and Paris are implementing strict curbs, in an intensified effort to examine the influx of coronavirus cases.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte could order bars and restaurants to close at 10 pm, ban certain sports activities and change the time for high schools to avoid congestion, according to officials in his government, who asked not to be identified in accordance with their policy. He is set to announce his plans Sunday night.
Switzerland will need masks in public indoor spaces effective from Monday and ban the gathering of more than 15 people, President Simonetta Sommaruga said. In London, rules prohibit people from mixing with other households indoors, while in Paris and eight other French cities, residents are confined to their homes between 9 p.m. 6 in the morning for four weeks.
In Belgium, which has the highest number of cases per capita in Europe other than the Czech Republic, the government announced plans for new nationwide restrictions starting Monday. Ireland is set to approve stricter national measures on Monday.
With the exception of Belgium and Ireland, European leaders have almost stuck with local restrictions targeting urban virus hotspots after extensive lockdowns earlier this year triggered some of the worst recessions in living memory. But in the region heading into winter, if people can’t afford to spend more time outdoors and delivery rates are likely to rise, a return to any sense of normality is emerging.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz urged Austrians to avoid contact with society and observe health measures to prevent a second lockdown in a video message on social media.
“If we all have no private festivals, big gatherings, celebrations, we can slow down the spread and keep schools, the economy, and large parts of social life open,” Kurz said.
The increased restrictions came as new cases hit the daily record across Europe France reported 32,427 infections on Saturday, Italy 10,925, the UK 16,171 and Germany 7,695.
The Italian coalition is divided into new restrictions. Some in the government are looking for stricter rules as Conte insists the outbreak is now very different from what the country is facing in the first year, so the measures should reflect the current situation, Italian reported media including Il Corriere della Sera. Regional leaders met on Sunday with several ministers to try and agree on new policies, Conte announced later in the day.
Authorities in the Lombardy region, which includes Milan’s financial capital, said on Friday it had told bars and restaurants to start shutting down at midnight, suspended gaming, and banned establishments from serving alcohol after 6:00 except for customers sitting at tables. Restrictions for high schools and sporting events were also announced.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier entered quarantine after a virus-positive guard on Saturday said a spokesman. Steinmeier’s first test result was negative but he will try again.
In Belgian, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the hospitality restrictions, along with a midnight to 5 am curfew and curbs on alcohol sales and gatherings, will take effect Monday for four weeks. Work from home will be mandatory wherever possible. Bars in Brussels were closed last week.
“With many measures, the numbers are worse than in March or April,” De Croo told a news conference. “And I have no good message: those numbers could continue to rise in the coming days.”
Read more: Europe Loses Battle to Stay Open on Record Virus Surge
Belgium experience suggests the prospect of a national shutdown on the growing likelier, even after leaders including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron have vowed to do everything to maintain their economy.
The Irish cabinet is set to approve Monday to move the country to a lockdown on Level 5, the strictest shutdown, as cases climb to levels last seen in April. Most of the country is at Level 3. Level 5 will see all the non-essential stores nearby, and people will be locked up within 5 kilometers of the house.
In Spain, bars and restaurants closed in the Catalonia region around Barcelona, while in Austria, Kurz tried to channel what he called “spirit groups” displayed by citizens in the first wave of spring infection. The government has scheduled a meeting with the country’s nine provinces on Monday to decide how to reduce social ties after the country posted a record increase in new cases Saturday.
“The second wave is here,” said Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset. “It came on faster than we expected but we are ready for it.”
– With the help of Rodrigo Orihuela, Tommaso Ebhardt, Dara Doyle, Karin Matussek, and Boris Groendahl
(Updates to add restrictions to Switzerland in the third paragraph.)