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Coronavirus digest: Over 200,000 virus deaths in Europe

Nearly 4.8 million people in Europe have been infected with COVID-19. European countries are stepping up restrictions to contain spread of the virus following a 44% increase in cases this week. Read the latest here.

Nearly 4.8 million people across Europe are infected with the coronavirus and 200,587 people have died from the disease, according to the latest figures from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The figures cover the European Economic Area, which includes all European Union member states, plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and the United Kingdom. It does not include Switzerland. Most of the deaths occurred in the UK (over 43,000), followed by Italy, Spain and France.

The World Health Organization includes more countries in its "Europe" region, and has a correspondingly higher tally for the continent with 7.8 million cases and 255,000 deaths.

As coronavirus cases spike throughout Europe, France and other nations are looking into extraordinary measures to curb the pandemic.

Read more:  What the EU's new traffic light system means for the pandemic measures

Europe

France reported 29,837 new cases on Sunday, slightly down from the record 32,400 logged the day before. The rising cases comes after a strict night-time curfew went into effect in Paris and eight other cities on Saturday evening, running from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) and 6 a.m. Residents are only allowed to leave their homes if they have a valid reason.

The only valid reasons are commuting to or from work, medical emergencies, caring for relatives or children, or travel to or from airports or train stations for long-distance travel. The recent spike in new cases had prompted the authorities to reimpose state of emergency in the country.

The United Kingdom remains Europe's worst-affected area in terms of deaths, accounting for almost one-fifth of deaths on the continent.

The UK registered 16,982 new daily COVID-19 infections within 24 hours, according to government data issued on Sunday – up from 16,717 the previous day. The number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test was 67 – down from 150 the previous day. The British government continues to struggle to fight the outbreak, with local officials resisting attempts by ministers to impose restrictions by region.

Italy registered 11,705 new coronavirus cases on Sunday – up from the previous record of 10,925 posted the day before. Fatalities increased to 69 – up from 47 the day before, significantly lower than at the height of the pandemic in Italy in March and April, when daily fatalities peaked at more than 900. 

The virus has hit the country's parliament, with 20 lawmakers in Italy's Chamber of Deputies testing postive for COVID-19. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is due to announce further measures later on Sunday.

Read more: Europe's banks struggle to survive a second wave

Police in the Czech Republic deployed tear gas and a water cannon to disperse protesters demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions in the capital Prague on Sunday. Thousands rallied in the city's Old Town Square to protest against bar and restaurant closures and ban on sports competitions.

The demonstration turned violent when organizers ended the rally after it exceeded the protest limit of 500 participants. Some protesters threw beer bottles, stones and other objects at police. The Czech Republic currently has the highest infection rate in Europe, facing a record surge in infections in recent weeks.

Riot police use water cannons during a protest in Prague against the Czech government's coronavirus restrictions

Police used water cannon to break up the anti-coronavirus restrictions demonstration in Prague

 

Slovakia plans to test everyone in the country over the age of 10 for the virus this month – twice. It was not immediately clear whether testing will be voluntary or mandatory.

Slovenia, meanwhile, has suspended its contact tracing efforts citing the country's swelling caseload. The country's public health body said the number of cases was so high that it was unable to successfully conduct tracing of those who test positive. Instead, those infected will be asked to self-isolate and contact those with who they may have come into contact.

Germany wants to address the decline of its city centers, an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, amid concerns that the holiday season will be the worst for 'brick and mortar' retailers for years.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS)that he will meet representatives from the retail sector on Tuesday for talks. Online shopping has experienced tremendous growth and is now even more of a threat to traditional retailers due to social distancing rules and ongoing virus fears.

Meanwhile, Food and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner warned the public against panic buying despite a spike in cases. "Those who hoard not only act illogically but also in solidarity. And in the end, a lot [of food] ends up in the bin," she said. Hamsterkauf (hamster buying) is the German term or panic buying or hoarding, as the animals are known for filling their cheeks with food.

Read more: Merkel says Europe must learn coronavirus lessons as situation gets 'serious'

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Germany: Window Tests for Coronavirus

The Netherlands has hit a new record of daily infections. The National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said Saturday there were 8,114 new cases in the previous 24 hours.

Ireland will bring in "decisive" nationwide COVID-19 restrictions on Monday but will stop short of reintroducing the kind of lockdown imposed earlier this year, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris told public broadcaster RTE.

After hitting a new daily record on Friday, Switzerland is implementing new strict measures to combat the spread of the virus. As of Monday, masks will be required in all indoor public places, including transit stations, schools, child-care facilities and shopping malls. Gatherings of more than 15 people are also not permitted in public.

Asia 

China has passed a new law to improve its handling of disease outbreaks — including protecting whistleblowers  —following a cascade of criticism over its coronavirus response and accusations of an early cover-up.

Taking effect from April 15 next year, the new biosecurity law flags the right to report "acts that endanger biosecurity" and calls for risk prevention systems, ranging from active monitoring to emergency plans. Those who conceal information, omit making reports or prevent others from reporting infectious diseases could be given warnings or suspended.

Read more: China approves new law to protect whistleblowers and prevent epidemics

Americas

Day of the Dead celebrations will not be as prominent in Mexico this year as cemeteries have been closed down to prevent the spread of the virus. Day of the Dead observations blend Catholic rituals with the pre-Hispanic belief that the souls of the departed return once a year.

Residents collect marigold flowers and buy the deceased's favorite things in life, such as food or alcohol, in order to entice them to return to the living world.

Middle East

Israel will reduce some lockdown restrictions from Sunday. Residents will be allowed to travel more than one kilometer (about 0.6 miles) from their homes. Beaches, national parks, and children's nurseries are expected to re-open as well.

"We will exit (lockdown) carefully this time, in line with the plan set out by the experts at the health ministry," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday.

There were 1,695 newly reported cases on Friday in Israel, compared to between 8,000-9,000 cases every day at the end of September. 

Saudi Arabia has allowed people within the kingdom to pray at the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, one of the holiest sites for Muslims. The mosque was closed to the public for nearly seven months over coronavirus concerns. The move comes soon after residents and citizens were allowed to take part in the Umrah pilgrimage at Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites.

Oceania

Australia's second-largest city, Melbourne, has loosened lockdown restrictions as new and active COVID-19 continue to decline. From Sunday, residents will no longer face strict limits on the time they can spend away from their homes for education or recreation. 

Previous restrictions stopped them from traveling more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from home, but the limit has been extended to 25 kilometers (15 miles). The city had been placed under a severe lockdown for more than 100 days due to a surge in cases.

New Zealand confirmed a new community case Sunday, just two weeks after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared the country "beat the virus again."

The Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the case was caught the day the man developed symptoms,  so the ministry of health "was able to self-isolate close contacts, which is a good reminder to the rest of New Zealanders for best practice."

The announcement came a day after Ardern's Labour party won a landslide election, with her handling of the virus considered a major factor.

mvb, mm, kbd/rs (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)

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