France records sharp rise in Covid-19 deaths as Europe tightens restrictions


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The number of confirmed new Covid-19 cases and deaths in France rose sharply in the last 24 hours, according to French health ministry data published Saturday as a number of European countries announced new restrictions to stem a deadly second wave.

France registered 32,095 new Covid-19 cases over the previous 24 hours to reach a total of 1,954,599. Deaths in hospitals in France from Covid-19 rose by 359 over the previous 24 hours to reach a total of 44,246 so far, according to French health ministry figures.

The rise in infections and deaths in France came as a swathe of new restrictions were announced or came into force in a number of European countries. 

Schools to close in Austria and Greece

Austria on Saturday announced schools and non-essential shops would close from Tuesday, just two weeks after a partial lockdown was imposed.

“There are still many who say that infections don’t happen at school, in shops or services,” Chancellor Sebastien Kurtz told a news conference.

“But the truth is the authorities can no longer trace 77 percent of new infections, which means they no longer know where contamination is happening.”

Greece, battling a saturated national health system, announced it would shut all schools after imposing a nationwide night curfew from Friday.

 “Closing elementary schools was the last thing we wanted to do. This is a measure of how serious the situation is,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said. Secondary schools had already been shuttered.

In Italy, the regions of Tuscany and Campania – of which Florence and Naples are the respective capitals – plunged into “red zones” of tough restrictions, which now cover 26 million of the 60 million population.

“There is no other way if we want to reduce the numbers of dead,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, as the country’s death toll rose by 544 to 44,683, one of Europe’s worst.

New anti-virus curbs also came into force in Ukraine on Saturday, with all non-essential businesses ordered closed for the weekend.

 ‘Don’t kill the economy’

There were protests in several Germans cities against enforced mask-wearing, with police saying they used water cannon to disperse nearly 1,000 people in Frankfurt.

France’s Riviera resort of Nice saw 1,500 take to the streets to demand a more coherent set of restrictions to fight the disease.

French restaurant and bar owners announced legal action against government measures which closed them from the end of October.

Hundreds of demonstrators also turned out in Portugal, defying a weekend curfew imposed on seven out of every 10 of the population of 10 million.

The curfew bans driving on public roads after 1 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

“The pandemic is on and we have to be protected, but without killing the economy,” said 33-year-old Carla Torres, who works in Lisbon’s hospitality industry.

Poland became the latest country to report record figures with 548 coronavirus deaths over 24 hours, just days after the government decided against introducing a nationwide quarantine.  

EU body expects favourable opinion on vaccines

Lifting the gloom, the European Medicines Agency added to growing hopes that an effective vaccine could be available soon.

The EU body said it expected to give a favourable opinion on a vaccine by the end of the year if test results proved positive. That would allow distribution from January.

But if the hurdles of testing and distribution are overcome, another challenge awaits: Will people take a vaccine?

“My fear is that not enough French people will get vaccinated,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex told Le Monde newspaper. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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