Efforts to contain a second wave of coronavirus in Europe’s worst affected areas were in disarray on Friday as national and regional governments clashed over the severity of new restrictions and their economic costs.
Many countries in Europe are witnessing a sharp increase in confirmed Covid-19 cases, but there is widespread reluctance to repeat the stringent lockdown measures that appeared to bring the virus under control in the early summer.
In Spain, Madrid’s conservative-run regional administration defied a call from the leftwing national government to place the whole capital under controls limiting residents’ movements.
Health minister Salvador Illa said curbs applied earlier this week to districts that are home to 850,000 people should be enforced across the city, warning that the capital faced some “very hard weeks”. But his appeal was rebuffed by the Madrid region. The two administrations have been a loggerheads for months, trading blame for the high death rate from Covid-19 in the spring and a deep economic crisis triggered by lockdown measures.
Spain reported 12,000 new cases on Friday and was the worst-hit country in Europe, with a two-week total of 282 cases per 100,000. In Madrid, the infection rate was 722 per 100,000.
Political bickering between central government and the regions, which are largely responsible for healthcare, has hampered the coronavirus response, say analysts.
In Marseille, one of the hardest hit regions of France which is also experiencing an alarming spike in infections, bar owners and restaurateurs took to the streets in protest at a two-week hospitality ban which comes into effect on Saturday.
Even though Marseille hospitals are already under strain, local political leaders have rebelled against tougher restrictions imposed by central government, insisting they had the surge in cases under control. The deputy mayor of Marseille called the curbs “an affront”.
But French health minister Olivier Veran said the “health situation in Marseille has badly deteriorated for several weeks leading to a major risk”.
Like the UK, France has ordered bars in Paris and other cities to close by 10pm but has so far eschewed more widespread social distancing requirements.
In the US, the number of cases surpassed 7m, with more than 45,000 new cases reported on Thursday together with 885 deaths.
In the Netherlands, new cases jumped to 2,777 on Friday, the highest tally since the pandemic began. “The figures look downright terrible,” said prime minister Mark Rutte.
In Britain, regional administrations expressed frustrations at the limited curbs adopted by the UK government. Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, urged prime minister Boris Johnson to impose tighter restrictions when the capital was placed on higher alert after recording 620 cases, double the number a week ago. Britain reported 6,874 new cases in total on Friday. “Ministers simply have to get a grip,” said Mr Khan.
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Cardiff and Swansea, the two biggest cities in Wales, will be placed in local lockdown from Sunday evening.
The Scottish government meanwhile is grappling with outbreaks at several universities with more than 500 students testing positive.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister, on Friday told students that they would not be subject to special coronavirus restrictions after this weekend — an assurance that followed widespread confusion about tougher measures announced by Scottish universities this week.
This article has been amended to make clear that Spain’s infection rate was the total number of tracked cases, rather than an average.
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