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WORLD | 29-10-2020 14:27

France, Germany head towards lock down as virus surges in Europe

Bars, restaurants and services prepared Thursday to shut down in France and Germany as countries around the world grapple with how far to push lockdown measures amid a surging tide of coronavirus cases. 

Bars, restaurants and services prepared Thursday to shut down in France and Germany as countries around the world grapple with how far to push lockdown measures amid a surging tide of coronavirus cases. 

Hundreds of thousands of new infections took the known global caseload past 44.5 million with nearly 1.2 million deaths, as the disease continues its deadly spread worldwide. 

India, one of the world's worst-hit nations, crossed eight million cases with fears of worse days ahead as the religious festival of Diwali draws near.

Following significantly relaxed summer seasons, France and Germany are now taking bold steps to shut down social life in the face of spiking infections across the continent.

Starting Friday, France will bar people from leaving their homes without authorisation, recalling the drastic stay-at-home measures seen around the world in early spring.

Bars and restaurants will also be closed until at least December and travel between regions will be limited, President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address Wednesday.

"As elsewhere in Europe, we are overwhelmed by a second wave that will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first," Macron said, though he assured that this lockdown would be less severe. 

Factories and building sites will remain open, as will crèches and schools – although children as young as six will be required to wear masks.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a lighter round of shutdowns from Monday, November 2, until the end of the month.

Germans will not be confined to their homes but bars, cafés and restaurants must close, as well as theatres, operas and cinemas.

Other European states are also tightening the screws on normal life, with Ireland locking down last week while Spain and Italy have imposed various curfews and travel restrictions.

Greek port city Thessaloniki was on Thursday declared a "red zone" facing shutdown of many activities.

And Poland opened a field hospital in the national stadium in Warsaw offering 1,200 beds as daily cases surge.

EU leaders are to hold a video summit Thursday on the crisis, according to European sources, the first in a series of such calls to improve coordination across the continent.

Yet despite mounting cases and deaths, the UK has vowed to persist with its localised approach instead of a nationwide lockdown.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded statistics showed Britain was in a "bad place", with nearly 25,000 new cases registered on Wednesday.

But he indicated that ministers still believed targeted action was "the best way forward" given varying rates of infection.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also said Thursday had no plans to introduce a sweeping lockdown, even as the country saw record tolls with reports of ambulance queues at hospitals and medical shortages. 

'Time to make a will'

New restrictions are also shaking up life elsewhere in the world.

Mandatory masks and some business curfews have been ordered in Pakistani cities, while Tunisia said Thursday it was imposing a nationwide night-time curfew, shutting schools and banning inter-region travel. 

Health authorities warn Africa that time is running out to prepare for its "second wave". 

Over the past month there has been a six-percent average increase in weekly Covid-19 cases across the continent, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the biggest concerns for governments worldwide is public weariness and anger over the economic, social and psychological costs of the lockdowns.

Life as it was known has been radically upended, from remote schooling to office work -- and even planning for death itself.

In Mexico, which has the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll at more than 90,000, the pandemic has forced people to draft wills that many would otherwise put off.

"We Mexicans often leave things until 'mañana' ["tomorrow"] and don't like to talk about wills. It's a bad omen," said Laura Villa, a 49-year-old financial sector worker and mother of two.

"The pandemic made me decide now's the time to make a will."

Elsewhere in Latin America, Argentina passed 30,000 deaths, and both countries lag behind Brazil's nearly 160,000 fatalities.

Pandemic Halloween

The United States still has the highest death toll and infection count in the world, and like Europe, it is battling a fresh spike with tens of thousands of new daily cases as fears grow that hospitals could be overwhelmed.

But there were positive signs on the economic front, with the US posting its strongest recovery on record with a 33.1 percent annualised growth rate in the third quarter, plus a drop in applications for jobless benefits.

The much-loved holiday of Halloween, however, is unlikely to be the same this year even if mask-wearing has long been a tradition on October 31.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned the holiday could present a high risk, while several states have discouraged children from trick-or-treating.

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