Coronavirus infections hit a new high this week in Russia, while Germany and the U.K. announced plans to expand virus testing as European nations battled rapidly increasing infections and hospitalizations that strained health care systems.
Across Europe, countries have been re-introducing restrictions to get ahead of a virus that has rampaged across the globe, causing more than 1.2 million deaths — over 270,000 of them in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
New coronavirus restrictions took effect Tuesday in Austria and Greece, following a partial coronavirus shutdown in Germany on Monday and tighter rules in Italy, France, Kosovo and Croatia. Residents in England also face a near-total lockdown beginning Thursday, although schools and universities will stay open.
Infections have spiked in Russia, where authorities on Tuesday reported 18,648 new infections, bringing their total to over 18,000 daily cases for the fifth straight day, much higher than the record of over 11,000 daily infections in the spring.
Russia has the world’s fourth-highest coronavirus caseload of more than 1.6 million and has reported over 28,000 deaths in the pandemic.
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The country lifted most virus-related restrictions this summer and officials have said the health care system is able to cope. However, alarming reports have surfaced in recent weeks about overwhelmed Russian hospitals, drug shortages and inundated medical workers.
In Britain, the government plans a new COVID-19 testing program in Liverpool, offering regular testing to anyone living and working in the city of 500,000 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
“These more advanced tests will help identify infectious individuals who are not displaying symptoms … so they can self-isolate and prevent the virus from spreading,” the Department of Health said.
The trial in Liverpool, which has one of the highest infection rates in England with more than 410 cases per 100,000 people, is seen as a test of how Britain might roll out mass testing across the country.
Germany said it is bulk-buying millions of antigen tests, which produce rapid results, to avoid banning visitors to nursing homes and preventing the anguish to residents and their relatives that such isolation caused in the spring. Nursing homes will receive up to 20 free monthly tests per resident, which can be used to test patients, staff and visiting relatives who might be unwitting carriers of COVID-19.
The antigen tests look for specific protein on the virus, but experts have said they were less accurate than the standard PCR test, which can detect even traces of the virus.
France reported 410 virus-related deaths in hospitals on Monday, the highest single-day rise since April. The country is reporting tens of thousands of new infections per day and COVID-19 patients now occupy 73 per cent of France’s intensive care beds, a rapidly rising number that prompted the government to impose a new month-long lockdown.
New restrictions came into effect in Austria, hours after an attack in Vienna on people enjoying the last few hours before bars and restaurants closed left five dead, including the attacker.
Austrian restaurants and bars can operate only for deliveries and takeout until the end of the month, while cultural, sports and leisure activities were cancelled. Non-essential stores remain open, but residents are asked to stay home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Greece imposed a lockdown on its second-largest city, Thessaloniki, and the neighboring northern province of Serres beginning Tuesday. Residents can only leave their homes for specific reasons after notifying authorities by text message.
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Domestic and international flights to Thessaloniki were cancelled and retail stores, restaurants, gyms, churches and entertainment venues were ordered to shut down for two weeks. Primary and junior high schools remain open, but the final grades of high school and universities will be taught online.
“What happened is necessary,” said 39-year-old Thessaloniki resident Angelos Georgiadis. “We got to a lockdown because of having fun, the cafes were packed. Now we wish and hope we get over this quickly.”
Lighter restrictions took effect in the Greek capital, Athens, where restaurants, bars, cafes, gyms, museums and entertainment venues shut down for two weeks. Only individual sports are allowed outdoors, but retail stores remain open.
Nationwide, the Greek government imposed a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew and made masks compulsory outdoors.
Also in France, a decree published Tuesday laid out new rules for what are considered “essential” items allowed to be sold during a month-long lockdown. Supermarkets are banned from selling flowers and books, but can still sell baby care, personal hygiene, grooming and household cleaning products.
Supermarkets were sealing off aisles or taking products off shelves Tuesday based on the new rules, which came after small businesses like florists and bookstores complained they were being unfairly punished by being forced to close.
Instead of allowing them to reopen, the French prime minister ordered big supermarkets to stop selling non-essential goods. Critics said the measure will encourage more people to turn to online retailers like Amazon instead.
© 2020 The Canadian Press