Life upended for Europeans as raft of virus restrictions take effect

Berlin/Rome (dpa) - European nations have enacted sweeping restrictions on citizens' freedom to move around and socialize, leaving shops shuttered, travel plans scrapped and streets empty.

Late on Saturday, France joined a number of its European neighbours in shutting down all non-essential businesses that serve the public to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The order applies to cafes, restaurants, cinemas and almost all shops - except food shops, pharmacies and tobacconists - until further notice.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that the virus has been spreading faster, with "a large rise in the number of people in intensive care" in some areas.
"We are heading towards a nationwide epidemic in the coming days," General Director of Health Jerome Salomon said, warning that the public was "not yet sufficiently aware of its role" in stopping the spread of the virus.
France has now confirmed 4,500 infections - a figure that has doubled in 72 hours - and 91 deaths. There are more than 300 patients in intensive care and more than half of them aged under 60.
Restaurants and stores offering non-essential goods in the Czech Republic were also locked up for the next 10 days starting Saturday, while Belgium followed suit to close all restaurants, cafes and bars.
Latvia and Norway followed others in closing their borders to all foreigners from early next week, with Latvia also placing an immediate ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
The Czech Republic also banned entry to foreigners from high-risk states, while the government now forbids most Czech citizens from visiting neighbouring Germany and Austria.
Denmark's borders closed at noon on Saturday, although deliveries of medicine, food and other important goods will be granted entry.
Starting Sunday, Poland will ban entry to foreigners, and international air and train connections will be suspended. Citizens and permanent residents are allowed in but will be subject to a two-week quarantine upon re-entry.
The stringent restrictions came after the head of the World Health Organization said late Friday that Europe is now the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, surpassing China as the world's coronavirus hotspot.
In Italy, the worst-affected country in the world outside of China, numbers soared to 21,157 infections and 1,441 dead, and hospitals are straining to treat an escalating number of patients.
Amid a national lockdown that has been going on since Tuesday, people are trying to keep their spirits up with balcony sing-alongs and other flashmob events.
The government has closed all shops except those selling essential items like groceries and pharmacies, and urged everyone to stay home unless for work, health or urgent needs.
Spain will follow Italy's lead into lockdown, after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez confirmed late Saturday that a state of emergency would enter into effect on Monday morning.
For 15 days, Spaniards will only be able to leave the house under exceptional circumstances. Trips to work, to the doctor and to buy food and medicine are still permitted, as is leaving the house to look after children, the elderly and those who are in need of help.
The state of emergency could be extended by the parliament in Madrid. The country is second only to Italy in the severity of its coronavirus outbreak, with more than 6,000 cases and over 190 deaths.
Countries across Europe have banned large gatherings, or strongly advised against them. Museums, landmarks and theme parks have been closed, such as Disneyland Paris.
Travel by planes and trains has also been curtailed as operators slash routes or cut back service due to low demand, and governments ban arrivals from selected countries. The measures are in stark contrast to the European Union's normally open borders.
The Trump administration's 30-day travel ban on flights from the 26-nation passport-free Schengen area, as well as Britain and Ireland, has gone into force. The measure prevents many non-US citizens from flying to the US.
Turkey has banned entry for travellers from nine European countries, and Ankara is also closing one of its border crossings with Georgia. Ankara had earlier halted flights to China, Iran, Iraq, Italy and South Korea. The number of confirmed cases was at six on Saturday.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry on Saturday issued a travel recommendation to avoid non-essential trips to any part of the world for the coming month. Neighbouring Denmark and Sweden have also issued a similar recommendation.
Russia said it was suspending entry to non-Russians from neighbouring Poland and Norway, and advised citizens to keep travel to a minimum.
Iceland also advised its citizens to come back amid the cascade of new travel restrictions.
Estonia restricted access to its western islands to residents only, while Lithuania's government decided to put the entire country in quarantine for two weeks.
Meanwhile, the latest figures showed cases of infection continuing to rise in Europe.
Britain's coronavirus deaths nearly doubled to 21, with the total tally of cases at 1,140. Unlike other countries, Britain has so far avoided enacting restrictive measure on the public.
The Netherlands reported 155 new Covid-19 cases, raising the total to 959, while the number of cases in Slovakia climbed by 12 to 44 and the Czech Republic figure reached 89.
Poland's cases reached triple digits, with 103 confirmed cases and three deaths. Denmark and Slovenia reported their first coronavirus deaths on Saturday, while Sweden reported its second and Norway its third.
In Germany, there were nearly 3,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Saturday afternoon, according to the Robert Koch Institute. That figure marked a rise of over 730 cases from the previous day.
Most of the cases were reported in North Rhine Westphalia, which now counts 1,154 cases in total, including five deaths. The southern state of Bavaria is the second-most affected, counting 681 cases on Saturday, a rise of 123 cases as compared to the day before.


Sunday, March 15th 2020

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