Italy protesters, police clash over virus curbs

PARIS (AFP) – Italian demonstrators staged Europe’s latest public rally against new anti-coronavirus restrictions early yesterday, as more countries tightened social distancing rules over the weekend to fight surges in infections.

The World Health Organization has warned of an “exponential” rise in infections threatening health systems’ ability to cope with a second wave of the pandemic, testing many nations that appeared to have the virus under control earlier this year.

Governments are now struggling to balance new restrictions against the need to revive economies already battered by earlier lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

But populations weary of social isolation and economic hardship have bristled at new restrictions. Around 200 masked far-right militants clashed with Italian riot police during a demonstration against a new curfew in Rome shortly after midnight yesterday, throwing flares and firecrackers at officers.

Seven protesters were arrested during the rally, which came the night after hundreds of people set rubbish bins on fire and threw projectiles at police further south in Naples in another anti-curfew protest.

Police officers patrol during a protest in Rome. PHOTO: AP

Italy is reeling from its worst post-war recession after a two-month national lockdown prompted by one of Europe’s worst outbreaks, and authorities have so far sought to avoid reimposing more drastic quarantine restrictions.

The latest protests there cap a week of similar demonstrations against government restrictions in several parts of Europe, including Spain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

The continent has seen a spike in new infections and taken a raft of new containment measures, mostly trying to avoid new nationwide lockdowns – from night-time curfews to more restrictions on social gatherings.

After Germany recorded its 10,000th coronavirus death on Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The order of the day is to reduce contacts, (and) to meet as few people as possible.”