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Tens of millions across Europe brace for tough new restrictions as coronavirus cases soar

Posted October 23, 2020 7:08 a.m. EDT

— Tens of millions more people across Europe face tougher coronavirus restrictions going into the weekend as countries across the region battle to bring down rising infection rates.

A two-week "firebreak" lockdown comes into force at 6 p.m. local time Friday in Wales, under which everyone except critical workers is expected to stay at home.

The restrictions are the toughest seen in Wales since the spring, when the United Kingdom was badly hit in the first wave of infections to sweep Europe.

New restrictions also came into force Friday morning in northern England's Greater Manchester region, following a protracted tussle between national and local leaders over financial support.

Regions in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and elsewhere are also introducing curfews in a bid to stem the spike in cases.

Ireland on Thursday became the first country in Europe to reimpose a national lockdown.

The Irish measures, which prohibit social gatherings and require people to work from home unless they are providing an essential service, will remain in place for six weeks.

'Common endeavor'

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford urged the country to pull together as he announced the two-week lockdown plan.

"A firebreak period is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much longer and much more damaging national lockdown," Drakeford said Monday. "This is the moment to come together, to play our part in a common endeavor."

Drakeford called the lockdown "sharp and deep" and said all non-essential businesses such as shops, restaurants and bars must shut down from Friday evening until November 9. "The only exceptions will be critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible," he said.

Drakeford also said businesses affected by the lockdown would receive the necessary support but called on the UK government to make more funds available.

The new restrictions in the Greater Manchester region mean that its 2.8 million residents are not allowed to socialize indoors with anyone they do not live with, nor meet in private gardens. Outdoor social events in places like parks are limited to groups of six.

All pubs, bars, gyms, and casinos that don't serve food must close. However, people can continue to visit restaurants and pubs that remain open because they serve "substantial meals," as long as they only eat there with people they live with. In addition, Mancunians have been told to avoid all but the most essential travel outside of the area.

Night-time curfews

France's night-time coronavirus curfew will be extended more widely in the country from Saturday, with 46 million French people affected, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Thursday.

Castex said 38 French departments, or administrative areas, would be added to the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, bringing the number of departments under curfew to a total of 54 out of 101 departments. French Polynesia will also be under curfew, Castex said.

The measures are needed because "in France, and in Europe, the second wave is upon us," Castex said, adding that the number of deaths would keep increasing.

France reported a new record for daily coronavirus infections with 41,622 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to numbers released by the French Health Agency on Thursday.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in France to 999,043, according to government statistics. According to Johns Hopkins University data, France has recorded more than 1 million cases and more than 34,000 deaths.

Limiting outdoor parties

A night-time curfew will also come into force from Saturday in areas of Greece seeing the highest rates of infection and masks will become mandatory outdoors.

Big cities Athens and Thessaloniki are considered high-risk areas in the country's four tier-system, along with more than a dozen other regions, including Zante and Heraklion.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who announced the new restrictions in a televised address to the nation Thursday, said Greece was in better shape than most European countries but warned that tough months lie ahead.

The aim of the 12.30 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is to limit outdoor parties and gatherings, with the greatest rise in cases seen among young people, Mitsotakis said.

Greece recorded an additional 882 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, hitting a fresh daily record. It announced 15 more deaths and 90 individuals are in the ICU.

According to Greece's national public health organization, Greece has recorded 28,216 cases and 549 deaths in total.

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