Anger over Italy virus rules as curfews enforced around Europe

AFP , Monday 26 Oct 2020

Italian officials faced a backlash after imposing coronavirus restrictions aimed at "saving Christmas", as other hard-hit countries enforced curfews in a bid to avoid fresh national lockdowns

A waiter sweeps the floor of the "Caffe Torino" as he prepares to close in downtown Turin, on October 26, 2020, as the country faces a second wave of infections to the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus). (AFP)

Italian officials faced a backlash on Monday after imposing coronavirus restrictions aimed at "saving Christmas", as other hard-hit countries enforced curfews in a bid to avoid fresh national lockdowns.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered restaurants and bars to shut from 6:00 pm and closed all theatres, cinemas and gyms for a month -- much to the annoyance of business owners, opposition politicians and even some scientists, who questioned whether it would be enough to stop the virus.

"These restrictions will be the end of us," said restaurateur Giuseppe Tonon, 70, the owner of a restaurant in Oderzo, a small village in northeastern Italy. "We're not in a city centre, we're in the provinces. Our customers come in the evening or during the weekend."

A photograph of Tonon slumped in despair went viral on social media on the weekend, striking a chord not just with Italians but also with people across Europe.

Spain and France have both stiffened their rules, Slovenia has imposed border closures and even Norway, with one of Europe's lowest infection rates, tightened its rules on social gatherings on Monday.

Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people and infected more than 43 million globally.

'Rounding the corner'

The economic fallout continues to be severe, with tens of millions losing jobs and economies tanking across the world, and politicians are struggling to find answers.

US President Donald Trump, with his re-election campaign in full swing, was once again on the backfoot after one of his senior officials suggested his government would not control the virus -- comments seized on by challenger Joe Biden.

"We're absolutely rounding the corner," said Trump, denying he was giving up on the virus fight even as his country smashed its own dismal record for new daily cases on the weekend.

Europeans meanwhile were facing up to the thorny practicalities of doing politics as the pandemic surges.

The European Union said it would scale back meetings of experts and senior officials, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party said it would delay a congress planned for early December to choose a new leader.

'Jeopardising' cinema

Facing down his critics in Italy, Conte told citizens he hoped the restrictions "will allow us to be more relaxed by Christmas", though he warned "hugging and partying" would still be out of the question.

The newspapers poked fun at the prime minister, with Corriere della Sera's front page featuring a cartoon Conte telling Father Christmas: "Stop! We've brought in a decree to save you!"

But restaurant and bar owners were not laughing. The early closing times mean Italy's bustling aperitivo hour is gone, as are dinners out.

Senior figures from the arts world were also gunning for Conte.

A group of Italy's foremost film directors wrote an open letter warning that by closing cinemas the measures risked "jeopardising the future of an entire sector", and Italian conductor Riccardo Muti said the move would harm people's health.

Far-right opposition leader Matteo Salvini said he was preparing a legal challenge, but the World Health Organization's adviser to Rome Walter Ricciardi said the new rules may "not be enough" to stop the virus.

Regional leaders had already warned a new decree with strict measures would fuel social tensions, after street clashes in Naples and Rome last week.

'Very difficult year'

While cases and deaths remain higher in the Americas than in any other global region, the spikes in cases are causing most alarm in Europe.

Spain has announced a state of emergency giving regions the power to limit movement and extend curfews and France has expanded its nighttime curfews, which now cover roughly 46 million people.

The alarm was also being raised in less severely affected countries -- Denmark passing 1,000 daily cases for the first time.

Australia provided a glimmer of hope for beleaguered Europeans, with the second city of Melbourne registering no daily cases and preparing to exit one of the world's most severe lockdowns.

The city's residents have been under stay-at-home orders for nearly four months but with new cases falling dramatically, the state's politicians had been under pressure to lift the measures.

"This has been a very difficult year. And Victorians have given a lot and I'm proud of every single one of them," said Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews.

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