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24.09.2020 Africa

France shuts down Marseille nightlife as Europe battles virus spread

By Mariëtte Le Roux with AFP Bureaus
Britain is among countries toughening up virus restrictions as cases mount.  By Hollie Adams (AFP)
LISTEN SEP 24, 2020
Britain is among countries toughening up virus restrictions as cases mount. By Hollie Adams (AFP)

Bars and restaurants in France's second-biggest city Marseille were ordered closed Wednesday as Europe surged past five million coronavirus cases, with France and its neighbours hoping tighter restrictions can slow the spread.

Worldwide nearly 32 million people have been infected and more than 971,000 have died since the virus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and spread across the globe.

After appearing to bring cases mostly under control with economically devastating lockdowns, Europe now faces a resurgence, forcing governments to consider reintroducing tough measures.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered pubs to close early to help stem the virus spread.  By JUSTIN TALLIS (AFP) Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered pubs to close early to help stem the virus spread. By JUSTIN TALLIS (AFP)

More than half of Europe's infections have been recorded in Russia, followed by Spain, France and the United Kingdom.

The 380,000 cases reported in the past week represent the highest number in the region since the start of the pandemic.

'Be vigilant'

As infection data worsen in France -- with more than 13,000 new cases reported and almost 800 hospital admissions on Thursday alone -- French Health Minister Olivier Veran said bars and restaurants must close in Mediterranean port city Marseille, now the only part of mainland France at "maximum alert".

One level down on a new sliding scale of infection control measures, at "elevated alert", eight major cities including Paris will see new restrictions, including limitations on public gatherings to 10 people and earlier closing hours for bars.

The data is "continuing to worsen" but there is "still time to act", Veran said.

Toll of coronavirus infections and deaths worldwide and in worst-affected countries, as of September 23 at 1100 GMT.  By  (AFP) Toll of coronavirus infections and deaths worldwide and in worst-affected countries, as of September 23 at 1100 GMT. By (AFP)

The Madrid region, the heart of an explosion of infections in Spain, has already locked down roughly 850,000 people and plans to extend the measures on Friday.

Britain has also announced fresh steps to try to allay the rising toll.

"To help contain the virus, office workers who can work effectively from home should do so," the government said on Tuesday, despite fears of a devastating economic impact.

British new cases mounted to more than 6,000 in 24 hours on Wednesday, with almost 42,000 dead since the pandemic began.

New rules come into force for pubs and other hospitality venues on Thursday, forcing them to close early, and plans to allow fans back into sporting events have been ditched.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the new restrictions could last up to six months and called for a collective effort to "get through this winter together".

His scientific advisors had said the United Kingdom could see a devastating 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October if no action is taken.

Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that the virus is "not just a public health emergency, it is a communications emergency too", urging the media and social media platforms to do more to battle harmful misinformation.

Trump says deaths 'a shame'

The World Health Organization reported late on Monday that almost two million infections were recorded around the globe in the week to September 20.

The United States has passed 200,000 deaths, the world's highest toll, with Brazil, India and Mexico the next most severely affected countries.

The world's most powerful nation hit the figure just 41 days before a presidential election.

President Donald Trump blamed Beijing for Covid-19, labelling it a President Donald Trump blamed Beijing for Covid-19, labelling it a "China virus". By MANDEL NGAN (AFP)

US President Donald Trump -- who faces a tough re-election fight and is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in the polls -- said the 200,000 milestone was "a shame" and deflected blame on to China.

Trump used a Tuesday video address to the annual United Nations General Assembly to attack Beijing for not stopping the spread of what he called the "China virus".

"We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world -- China," he told the UN's diplomatic showcase event, which is being held almost entirely online because of the pandemic.

Germany's economy has fared better than some, but vital industries like carmaking need support.  By Tobias SCHWARZ (AFP/File) Germany's economy has fared better than some, but vital industries like carmaking need support. By Tobias SCHWARZ (AFP/File)

Trump has repeatedly played down the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic is taking a heavier toll on employment than previously feared, the United Nations said on Wednesday, with hundreds of millions of jobs lost and workers suffering a "massive" drop in earnings.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) found that by mid-year, global working hours had declined 17.3 percent compared with last December -- equivalent to nearly 500 million full-time jobs.

"The impact has been catastrophic," ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters in a virtual briefing.

German finance minister Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that the pandemic response would see Berlin breach its self-imposed no-new-debts rule for the second year running in 2021, as it forks out vast sums to keep Europe's top economy afloat.

"We are acting decisively, even if it costs a lot of money -- doing nothing would be much more expensive for our country," Scholz said.

But with German output expected to fall less steeply than many neighbours this year, Berlin hopes to return to balanced budgets from 2022.

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