Publicado: 31/10/2020

England set for new virus lockdown as Slovakia tests population

England set for new virus lockdown as Slovakia tests population

London (AFP) -

Britain's prime minister held an urgent cabinet meeting on Saturday and looked set to join other European countries in imposing a new coronavirus lockdown in England, as Slovakia took a different tack and began testing its entire population.

The list of countries on the continent re-implementing stringent new restrictions on people's lives is fast expanding as Europe experiences a dizzying spike in Covid-19 cases, leading to widespread exasperation and sometimes violent protests.

On Saturday alone Austria brought in a second lockdown, Greece declared a partial one while Portugal was also considering tighter restrictions as infections hit record numbers.

- England into new lockdown? -

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,189,892 people since emerging in China last December, according to an AFP tally from official sources. At least 45,650,850 cases have been registered worldwide.

Based on the latest 24-hour reports from Friday, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 919, followed by India with 551 and France -- which is already in the midst of a second lockdown -- with 545.

The United States also passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday, as infections spike days before the nation chooses its next president.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened his cabinet on Saturday to decide whether to impose a new lockdown across England within days, following warnings his localised restrictions strategy has failed to curb soaring cases.

The new nationwide rules will reportedly close all but 'essential' stores as well as a bars and restaurants while keeping schools, colleges and universities open.

Johnson is expected to make an announcement from Downing Street later Saturday.

More than 46,000 people have died of the virus in Britain -- more than any other European country.

The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already reimposed partial lockdowns to try to cut their surging rates.

'Government delay has cost both lives and livelihoods,' London Mayor Sadiq Khan, of the main opposition Labour party, tweeted. 'We must act now to protect both.'

Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, meanwhile, justified his new partial lockdown by saying it was time to act 'before intensive care units buckle under the strain of lives in danger.'

The new lockdown will close restaurants and other leisure activities in Athens and other major cities from Tuesday.

- Tests for everyone -

In Slovakia, the government decided to take a different approach and test its 5.4-million-strong population.

Some 45,000 medical workers, army and police are being deployed to carry out the tests in the EU nation, collecting swabs at around 5,000 testing points.

Participation in the testing is not mandatory but anyone who is not able to produce a negative test certificate if stopped by police could face a heavy fine.

Anyone who tests positive has to go immediately into quarantine for 10 days.

'This will be our road to freedom,' Prime Minister Igor Matovic said this week, hinting that virus restrictions could be eased once testing is complete, or reinforced if the programme is not carried out in full.

But the Slovak Association of General Practitioners has criticised the operation as ill-conceived, pointing out that crowding into testing sites went against anti-infection protocols.

- Violent clashes -

Some countries that have already reintroduced lockdowns, at varying degrees of severity, are now facing a backlash from disgruntled citizens.

Protesters clashed with police in Barcelona on Friday after hundreds gathered to denounce new coronavirus restrictions, including a curfew and a ban on leaving the city over the holiday weekend.

In Italy, the mayor of Florence Dario Nardella appealed for calm after violent clashes late Friday between riot police and protesters, some of whom hurled Molotov cocktails, bottles and rocks, overturning trash bins and breaking security cameras.

'This is not how you protest your grievances, this is not how you voice your suffering,' Nardella wrote.

In Bologna some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, a few hundred people also protested on Friday evening, most of them young men, including football hooligans and some giving the fascist salute, La Repubblica daily reported.

Italy's government is also eyeing a lockdown of the country's major cities, including Milan, Rome and Naples.

- Fears over Formula One -

The sporting world, meanwhile, continued to be hit by the virus.

Italy's Lazio, already deprived of several players, announced on Saturday that it had put its entire squad in quarantine after positive coronavirus tests.

And Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said there were concerns that further Covid-19 lockdowns across Europe could hit Formula One as Lewis Hamilton heads towards a record-equalling seventh world title.

'The situation is becoming more difficult,' he said at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on Friday.

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