ATHENS, Greece (AFP) — Greece became the latest country to announce a partial lockdown Saturday to combat soaring coronavirus infections, and news reports suggested England may soon follow as other countries faced growing protests over restrictions.
Portugal is also considering tighter restrictions as the infections hit record numbers there, while Slovakia launched an ambitious program to test its entire population.
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,189,892 people since emerging in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP Saturday. At least 45,650,850 cases have been registered.
Based on the latest 24-hour reports from Friday, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 919, followed by India with 551 and France with 545.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared a partial coronavirus lockdown in a televised address Saturday. “We must act now before intensive care units buckle under the strain of lives in danger,” he said.
“The virus is attacking in waves, and we need to quickly adapt.” The new lockdown will close restaurants and other leisure activities in Athens and other major cities from Tuesday.
The rest of the country will have to abide by an overnight curfew in addition to the compulsory use of masks even outdoors, Mitsotakis said.
England may return to lockdown
According to reports in several British news outlets, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also considering a fresh lockdown across England from next week.
Johnson is expected to announce on Monday stringent new rules closing all but “essential” stores, while keeping schools, colleges, and universities open, The Times said.
The Daily Telegraph was more circumspect, suggesting that Johnson was to discuss the situation over the weekend with senior advisers and ministers and hold a cabinet meeting on Sunday to sign off on any final decisions.
More than 46,000 people have died of the virus in Britain — more than any other European country.
The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have already reimposed partial lockdowns to try to cut their surging rates.
Last month, the government’s scientific advisers recommended a two-week national “circuit-breaker” lockdown over the half-term school holidays this week, but Johnson rejected the move.
“Government delay has cost both lives and livelihoods,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, of the main opposition Labour party, tweeted. “We must act now to protect both.”
Some countries that have already reintroduced lockdowns, at varying degrees of severity, are now facing a backlash from disgruntled citizens.
Protesters clashed with police in central Barcelona, Spain on Friday after hundreds gathered to denounce new coronavirus restrictions, including a curfew and a ban on leaving the city over the holiday weekend.
And in Italy, the mayor of Florence appealed for calm Saturday after violent clashes late Friday between police and protesters there.
Portugal considers tighter measures
In Portugal, government ministers were meeting Saturday to consider whether or not to introduce new measures to curb the tide of infections there, as daily cases reached a record of 4,656 Friday, with 40 deaths.
Meanwhile, Slovakia on Saturday began an ambitious program to screen its entire population for the virus.
Some 45,000 medical workers, army, and police are being deployed to carry out the tests in the EU member state of 5.4 million people, collecting swabs at around 5,000 testing points.
“The world will be watching,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said this week, suggesting that the operation would save hundreds of lives.
But the Slovak Association of General Practitioners has criticized it as ill-conceived, pointing out that crowding into testing sites went against anti-infection protocols.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean, the region with the most cases of COVID-19, passed 400,000 late Friday, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.