Anger and exasperation over new coronavirus curbs grew Sunday as European nations wound back the clocks to the spring with fresh lockdowns and restrictions aimed at halting galloping infections and deaths.
Protesters in several Spanish cities clashed with security forces for a second night running Saturday, police said, while England prepared for fresh stay-at-home orders, following in the steps of Austria, France and Ireland.
European governments are desperate to stem the worrying spike in infections on the continent which has registered more than 279,000 deaths since the virus first emerged in China at the end of 2019.
In England, many expressed anxiety about the economic cost of the four-week shutdown due to take effect from Thursday, even if it will not be as strict as before with schools and universities allowed to remain open – just like in France.
Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, which lobbies for the entertainment and hospitality sector, said the new closures would leave businesses facing “financial Armageddon”.
“This city will go bust, there will be nothing left of it,” said Roger Stenson, a 73-year-old pensioner in the city of Nottingham, echoing widespread concern over the long-lasting impact of another shutdown.
“I fear for the young, like my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they’re going to suffer.”
In Spain, the anger that spilled onto the streets overnight Saturday saw looting and vandalism breaking out in some cities.
The country has imposed a nationwide nighttime curfew and almost all of Spain’s regions have implemented regional border closures to prevent long-distance travel.
In Italy, the scene of protests last week, the government is expected to announce new restrictions on Monday, according to news reports.
These are expected to include banning travel between regions, closing shopping centres at the weekend, limiting commercial activity and imposing an earlier nighttime curfew.
“The epidemiological curve is still very high,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who has been pushing for a country-wide lockdown, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“What worries me is the absolute figure, which shows a terrifying curve. Either we bend it, or we are in trouble,” he said.
Restrictions also led to unrest in Argentina, where riots took place in several jails in Buenos Aires province on Saturday, as prisoners demanded the resumption of visits in the pandemic.
The health situation is also deteriorating in the US, which is gearing up for a major election showdown between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden on Tuesday.
Already the worst-affected country with 230,586 deaths, it also registered 776 new fatalities on Saturday, the largest number in the world, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
Top government scientist Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post in a interview that the US is “in for a whole lot of hurt”.
“All the stars are aligned in the wrong place,” he said.
White House spokesman Judd Deere gave a scathing response.
“It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Fauci, a senior member of the president’s coronavirus taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” he said in a statement.
In Germany, the sadness was palpable at the renowned Bavarian State Opera House in Munich as it prepared to close due to shutdowns in the leisure, cultural and food and drink sectors.
It is “a slap”, said baritone Michael Nagy, unable to hide his tears.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, meanwhile, said that supermarkets would be barred from from selling “non-essential” items from Tuesday to protect small shopkeepers who have been forced to close.
Displaced Syrians at risk
The virus has killed at least 1,196,109 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged last December, infecting more than 46 million.
And while hospitals in European countries have sounded the alarm about their ability to treat a rapidly rising number of patients, the situation is even worse in other parts of the world.
In war-torn northwest Syria, where almost 1.5 million people live in overcrowded camps or shelters, often with poor access to running water, fears are running high.
“They tell us, ‘Don’t go out. Don’t cause overcrowding’. But we live in tents barely half a metre apart,” said Mohammad al-Omar, a father of four, in an informal settlement in Idlib, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.