Madrid/Athens/Dublin: Spain and Italy ordered discos to shut and Greece restricted hours for bars and restaurants amid concerns that Europe’s summer partying is reigniting the spread of the coronavirus.
Caught between fostering an economic recovery and the risk posed by a widespread outbreak, European officials are wary about returning vacationers spreading Covid-19 at workplaces and schools and forcing more stringent measures.
“We cannot waste the sacrifices made in the past months,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a Facebook post late Sunday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the sentiment, telling a meeting of her CDU party in Berlin that rising infections are of concern and there is no scope currently for loosening restrictions. Health Minister Jens Spahn suggested late Sunday that social gatherings should be limited to close family members for the time being.
Spain has again emerged as a hot spot, triggering new travel warnings in another blow to the country’s $175 billion tourism industry.
In the past 14 days, the country reported 116 new cases per 100,000 people, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. That compares with 41 in France, 16 in Germany and 9.3 in Italy, the original epicenter of the outbreak on the continent.
Irish emergency health authorities are meeting in Dublin on Monday to consider new measures to curb the pandemic.
In addition to outbreaks at food-processing plants, concern is mounting around potential contagion in bars following a weekend video of a Dublin barman standing on a counter to pour shots into customers’ mouths. Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn described such scenes as “reckless.”
“The next three weeks are incredibly important,” Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on RTE radio. On Saturday, the country reported the most daily infections since May.
From Ibiza to the crowded urban nightspots of Madrid, some 25,000 discos and clubs in Spain were struggling to emerge from one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns. Suspending operations again was part of a package of 11 measures the country’s regional authorities agreed to take to curb the fastest virus growth rate among Europe’s major economies.
The Health Ministry blamed nighttime socializing for fueling new outbreaks, casting a shadow over the government’s seven-week experiment to restore the country’s famed nightlife. Total cases surged by more than 27,000 last week.
“This will devastate us,” said Antonio Gomez of the SpainTOP travel agency in Madrid. “People don’t travel to Spain any more just for sun and beaches.”
Over the weekend, the Netherlands raised its travel advisory level to orange for three Spanish regions, including Madrid and the popular Balearic Islands. The advisory discourages nonessential travel and requires self quarantine upon return. The heightened alert comes after Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government on Aug. 6 tightened a range of measures domestically, including forcing cafes and restaurants to close.
The travel industry is continuing to suffer. Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount carrier, slashed capacity for September and October because of weaker demand, and other carriers are weighing similar cuts. TUI AG, the world’s biggest tourism operator, suspended trips to Spain from both the U.K. and Germany.
After posting its highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic last week, Greece introduced new restrictions, requiring bars and restaurants to close between midnight and 7 a.m. in the greater Athens region. The government also introduced an upper limit of 50 people at social events such as weddings in regions particularly affected by the virus.
In France, an increase of new cases over the past week — near the alert level in areas such as Paris and Marseille — has prompted a push for new measures. Local authorities have sealed some public areas such as beaches to prevent parties with nightclubs closed since mid-March. A ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people has been extended until the end of October.
Geneva prolonged the closure of discos and nightclubs until Sept. 10. The Swiss city also said restaurants would be required to collect the contact data of one guest per table.
In Switzerland, rules for public gatherings, shops and restaurants are now set by the cantons, meaning the situation differs across the country. In Zurich, nightclubs have stayed open despite cases of mass infections.
Austrians rushed back from Croatia before a midnight deadline. A travel warning that kicked in Monday means returnees from Croatia now have to provide a negative coronavirus test at the border or go into a two-week quarantine.
The country, where as many as 40,000 spent their holidays, is a popular destination as well as the home country of hundreds of thousands of people who came as “guest workers” in the 1970s or as war refugees in the 1990s. Croatia last week prohibited bars from operating past midnight.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned that more travel warnings for other European regions could come at short notice.
Romania, the eastern European nation with the highest virus-linked death toll, extended a state of alert for another 30 days last week with restrictions in crowded public spaces in the capital Bucharest and most-affected counties.
Estonia imposed stricter alcohol sales requirements in the region around the southern city of Tartu after a jump in infections was traced to nightclubs there.
The Czech Republic made wearing face masks obligatory at shops, offices and public transport as of Sept. 1.
In the Nordic region, governments are dealing with a sudden rise in new cases by telling citizens to use face coverings for the first time. The only exception is Sweden, which has avoided a full lockdown throughout the pandemic. Swedes continue to abide by the same guidelines of voluntary distancing that were first encouraged in March.
The trends aren’t getting worse everywhere. Belgium is seeing a decline in the daily number of infections for the first time since the epidemic started regaining strength in mid-July, and the U.K. continues to open up an economy that’s been hit more than any major European nation during the lockdowns, easing restrictions over the weekend on indoor performances, weddings and barbers. – Bloomberg
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