Saturday, May 15, 2021


Europe holds crisis talks as Spain seeks lockdown powers

Europe's leaders are stepping up efforts to force tougher local restrictions amid an unrelenting surge in coronavirus cases across the continent.



Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss a possible state of emergency for the Madrid region, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak with mayors of the country's biggest cities about efforts to contain the spread in Europe's largest economy.

Tensions are rising in the region as numerous countries post record increases in infections. Unlike the initial wave of the pandemic, national leaders are loath to impose stringent lockdowns and are facing increasing resistance even against local measures.

The U.K's caseload surged amid growing anger over the strategy of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, which is preparing to announce new restrictions for the worst-hit parts of the country beginning on Monday -- potentially including closing restaurants and bars.

France moved to place more cities on maximum alert after daily cases rose above 18,000 for a second straight day. Authorities tightened curbs beyond Paris and Marseille, adding Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Grenoble from Saturday. Bars, casinos and exhibitions will close in the affected cities, while restaurants, cinemas and museums face stricter controls.

Merkel will discuss containment measures with big-city officials after new covid-19 cases exceeded 4,000 for the second day in a row -- levels not seen since April. Berlin has now become a risk area, and the capital's residents face travel restrictions within Germany, while Frankfurt is approaching that threshold. Berlin will join other major European cities in shutting bars at 11 p.m. starting this weekend.

Germany was quick to react to the initial phase, and "we are again in a situation in which we must be fast in order to still keep control of the situation," Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller told reporters before the call with Merkel. "It would be dramatic for the German economy, but also for social reasons not to see one another for months."

Gerd Landsberg, managing director of Germany's cities and municipalities federation, said he expects Merkel to appeal to officials to do more to help enforce hygiene and distancing rules, possibly including bans on the sale of alcohol.

"There are still a lot of people who think it's nonsense, and they create a party atmosphere," Landsberg said Friday in an interview with ZDF television.

In Spain, Sanchez decided to hold the meeting after two crisis calls on Thursday with the head of the Madrid region -- Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a member of the main opposition party to Sanchez's Socialists. The options for enforcing mobility restrictions in the area include the declaration of a state of emergency, and the regional president, an avid critic of the prime minister, is due to respond.

The standoff, which follows a court setback on new restrictions, marks the latest twist in the deepening crisis involving the Spanish capital and its surrounding region. The spat has involved an acrimonious back-and-forth between national and local administrations.

Under a state of emergency, the government can use extraordinary legal powers to limit people's movement. If the government decides to impose a new lockdown after one of the world's strictiest earlier this year, it would be targeted only at the Madrid region.

Like other European countries, Spanish coronavirus cases have been steadily increasing since the late summer, but the situation has been especially acute in Madrid in recent weeks. The region recorded about 40% of Spain's new infections on Thursday, while 40% of local intensive-care beds are occupied with Covid-19 patients -- far ahead of the national average of 18%.

In Austria, national leaders and rival local politicians are also at odds, a battle fueled by elections in Vienna on Sunday.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's government has implored Vienna to bring forward a curfew to 10 p.m. and draw on support from the federal police for contact tracing, deploring "chaos" under Mayor Michael Ludwig's watch.

The city's contagion rate is about double the national level, and Germany, Switzerland and other countries have issued travel warnings for the Austrian capital. The Social Democratic city hall blamed the federal government for easing curbs too early.

As case numbers peak across eastern Europe, several countries are running into limits of their testing capacities, which have often already lagged those in the wealthier West.

As a result, it may become more difficult to track the spread of the virus, with daily counts having stabilized near record levels this week even as hospitalizations and deaths climb.

The Czech Republic -- the new epicenter of the virus in Europe -- reported a third consecutive daily record just hours after the government announced stricter measures to contain the outbreak. The nation had 5,394 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, the latest available figure.

As of Friday, Czechs have to keep to stricter distancing rules. Health Minister Roman Prymula urged people to work from home as much as possible to halt the "alarming" spread of infections. The country also banned all cultural and sporting events for two weeks, ordered restaurants to allow only four guests at one table and close at 8 p.m.


Published : October 09, 2020

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Rodrigo Orihuela, Raymond Colitt, Andrea Dudik · WORLD, EUROPE