European cities in standstill as virus measures squeeze public life

Berlin – Streets across Europe were quiet on Sunday, as lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus prompted countries to tighten borders and people to avoid public spaces.

Different measures across Europe

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced a strict, nationwide curfew on Sunday, according to the APA news agency, with police patrols to enforce the measure already in effect.

Large groups, for example at playgrounds, would be asked to go home, according to the measures. Beginning Monday, violators would be fined up to 2,000 euros (2,220 dollars), the chancellor’s office said.

The Austrian city of Eisenstadt, 60 kilometres south of Vienna, said city employees would be sent out to buy and deliver necessities such as food and prescription drugs to its sick and elderly population starting Monday.

Germany has confirmed it will close its border with Denmark early on Monday, as the country’s Deutsche Bahn rail service said it was cutting regional services due to a lack of passengers.

France announced that it would be gradually reducing long-distance plane, bus and train trips, encouraging people to travel only if absolutely necessary.

There were more than 5,000 cases in France as of Sunday, and 127 deaths.

The French Interior Ministry said Sunday it also wanted to reduce border traffic between Germany and France to the bare minimum to hinder the spread of the virus.

Any possible border measure between the two countries should allow commuters and commercial traffic to travel as usual, according to the ministry. France is already carrying out targeted controls at its borders with all neighbouring countries.

Poland shut down its borders to non-citizens early Sunday, with exceptions made only for those with permanent residence permits, truck drivers and diplomats. Polish citizens who return from abroad will be allowed in but must enter quarantine for 14 days.

Denmark’s borders closed at noon on Saturday, although deliveries of medicine, food and other important goods were allowed entry.

Danish police said that 3,748 people were checked after borders closed. Officers in southern Jutland reported that 149 people were denied entry on the first day that crossings to Germany were closed.

Foreigners without residency in Norway would be rejected at the borders when airports and ports partly close on Monday, the Norwegian government said.

Airports were not closing completely in order to allow citizens and people who live or work in Norway into the country. Outbound flights would also operate to allow tourists or foreign nationals to leave.

Help sent to Italy

Germany and France have loosened up much-criticized export restrictions, Italian Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli announced on Facebook on Sunday, allowing for personal sanitary protection gear to make its way to hard-hit Italy.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added that the move was preceded by “intense discussions” with both countries. The Economy Ministry in Berlin confirmed Patuanelli’s announcement.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday the government had ordered from China an additional 140 ventilators and 5 million face masks to fight the outbreak amid acute shortages of both items.

The Vatican, in an unprecedented move in modern times, said that Pope Francis would not lead any public rites during the Holy Week leading up to Easter, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Confirmed cases

Meanwhile, countries across the continent announced growing death tolls and infection numbers.

Italy, the world’s worst-affected country outside of China, reported 368 new coronavirus fatalities on Sunday, the largest death toll increase since the start of the outbreak on February 20.

Compared to Saturday, the death toll has risen by more than 25 per cent to 1,809, and infections were up by 17 per cent to reach 24,747. The fatality rate, particularly high in Italy, is 7.3 per cent.

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Spain’s outbreak continued to worsen, with the country reporting almost 100 new virus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 288. Spain now has 7,753 cases of the disease, making it the second-worst hit European nation after Italy.

The near-doubling of deaths comes after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a wide-reaching state of emergency that would limit citizens’ movement in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Sanchez’ wife tested positive for coronavirus, the government said late Saturday. Maria Begona Gomez is doing well, it added, and she and the head of state had followed all the doctor’s instructions at their Madrid residence.

The Czech Republic has recorded 253 cases of the virus, according to health ministry data. The country will impose restrictive measures starting on Monday.

Slovakia has so far recorded 61 cases of the new coronavirus and declared a state of emergency for hospitals and the closure of some stores starting Monday.

Serbia, where there are 48 confirmed cases, declared a state of emergency Sunday, after limiting prices of food, disinfectant and protective gear earlier in the day.

Poland recorded 19 new cases on Sunday, putting the total at 123, including three fatalities, according to the Health Ministry.

Sweden, which now has 992 cases of the virus, recorded its third death and Hungary, where 32 people are infected, its first death.