Large parts of Europe on Friday geared up for broad new restrictions to stop the coronavirus and Israel enforced a second nationwide shutdown, as infections worldwide topped the 30-million mark.
Spain was set to unveil a raft of restrictions as officials in Madrid warned the capital had been overwhelmed by the virus and called for “decisive” action from the central government.
Santiago Usoz, a medic working at accident and emergency in Madrid’s October 12 hospital, said there was a lack of both beds and staff. “Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” he said while highlighting the need for fresh curbs in Europe including his own country.
Britain and France are both rolling out new measures to curb coronavirus in the face of surging caseloads, with UK officials warning that a national lockdown could be reimposed.
Almost 950,000 people have now died from the virus since it first emerged in China late last year, Europe accounting for almost a quarter of those fatalities.
Israel imposed a three-week nationwide shutdown from 2:00 pm (1100 GMT) on Friday hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 meters of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of the hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday. “And all this for what? For nothing!”
Meanwhile, most of a group of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the Belarusian border with Ukraine left on Friday after Kiev refused them entry in line with its coronavirus rules, and Israel urged them to return.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
‘Do what it takes’
Anxiety has been growing across Europe about the possible return of stringent measures.
In Britain, new measures on Friday covered about two million people in northeast England, barring them from meeting people outside their homes and obliging entertainment venues to shut early.
The government had already imposed rules across England on Monday limiting socializing to groups of six or fewer, as daily cases reached levels not seen since early May.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday that the government could reimpose a national lockdown.
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” he said.
Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan said the city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display, which annually attracts tens of thousands of people, will not go ahead.
Not everyone is happy with the situation in the UK.
Music legend Van Morrison added his name to the list of artists officially fed up with lockdown measures, saying on Friday he had recorded three “protest songs” against the UK government’s lockdown.
The Northern Irish singer-songwriter has called the new tracks “Born To Be Free”, “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown”.
Emmys mixes it up
French authorities are also preparing tighter restrictions in several cities to curtail a resurgence after daily infections topped 10,000 twice over the last week.
Health minister Olivier Veran said Lyon and Nice would be under new rules by Saturday, after curbs on public gatherings were imposed this week in Bordeaux and Marseille.
The country’s public health agency said on Friday that coronavirus deaths were trending upwards for the first time since the end of the national lockdown.
Italy, meanwhile, said it would partially reopen stadiums to allow up to 1,000 fans at open air sports events from Sunday.
Large sporting and entertainment events have caused major headaches for organizers forced to stay within guidelines on social distancing.
“Ratings have been flagging for award shows for years,” said IndieWire TV awards editor Libby Hill. “This is, if nothing else, an opportunity to mix things up.”