Paris cityscape

European countries tighten restrictions due to COVID-19

Different European countries, including France and Belgium tightened restrictions as coronavirus cases surged.

France admits that the situation is “critical”. It is adding three more departments to the 16 already under tight restrictions.

Around 20 million people in France, including those in the greater Paris region, now live in high-infection zones. They cannot travel further than 10 km from their home unless they have an essential reason.

Checks at train stations, airports and toll-paying motorways began Saturday to enforce the travel restrictions.

About 10 police teams are in place against two in normal times” in Paris’s busy Montparnasse station. These numbers could increase during busy hours.

Only shops selling food, and book and music stores are open and classrooms in high schools are only running at half the capacity. 

Daily cases in France have nearly doubled since the start of the month. There have been more than 200,000 new cases every week.

Belgium meanwhile closed all businesses involving non-medical physical contact such as hairdressers for four weeks from Saturday. 

Shops offering “non-essential” services can only receive clients with appointments. 

Poland, another European country, closed creches, playgrounds, furniture and DIY stores, as well as beauty salons and barber shops.

Vaccination disparity

The pandemic has killed over 2.7 million people since December 2019, according to an AFP tally on Saturday.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 548,089 deaths. Brazil follows with 307,112 fatalities, Mexico with 200,862, India with 161,240 and Britain with 126,515 deaths.  

Health officials have rolled out more than 510 million coronavirus vaccine doses around the world, but with big gaps between countries.

The World Health Organization on Friday appealed to richer nations to donate vaccines to help poorer ones start inoculations.

The deployment of vaccines has been glaringly unequal, with the United States accounting for more than a quarter of the global total and poorer nations lagging far behind wealthier ones.

While rich EU countries are still struggling to get their inoculations into overdrive, France made it clear it sees vaccine policies feeding not just European, but global competition for influence. 

“We are looking at a new type of world war,” President Emmanuel Macron says. 

“We are looking in particular at Russian and Chinese attacks and attempts to gain influence through the vaccine.”

‘Biggest genocide’

However, Moscow — whose Sputnik V shot is being injected across the world — quickly hit back. Kremlin officials are saying they “absolutely disagree” with Macron’s comments.

But Berlin said it would be happy to use Sputnik V if it gets approval from EU regulators.

Germany also classified the whole of France as a high-risk zone, which means travelers need to show a negative Covid test and quarantine upon arrival.

Kenya became the latest African country to order a partial lock down on Friday, shutting schools and bars in and around the capital Nairobi.

“The cost of not acting now would be far greater,” says President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

In India, too, a sharp rise in infections will see new measures with worst-hit state Maharashtra, including its mega-city Mumbai, put under night curfew from Sunday.

In Brazil, the political heat was turned up on President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday. His predecessor accused him of presiding over the “biggest genocide” in the country’s history.

“We must save Brazil from Covid-19,” says former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, adding: “Brazil will not withstand it if this man continues to govern in this way.”

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