Parts of Europe re-open stores, Los Angeles sees new virus curbs

PARIS (AFP) – Parts of Europe will re-open stores in time for the holiday season after progress in containing the coronavirus, but Los Angeles will halt nearly all gatherings with the pandemic surging across the United States (US).

Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for the festive season, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until a clutch of promising new vaccines kick in.

Stores lifted their shutters in France yesterday, while Poland’s shopping centres also re-opened.

Belgium is to allow shops to reopen from December 1, but keep the current semi-lockdown in place possibly until mid-January.

The move mirrors similar easing in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The Italian government partially lifted restrictions in Lombardy and Piedmont in the north, and Calabria in the south from today, changing their alert levels from red to orange.

Festive lightings at a street in Strasbourg, eastern France. PHOTO: AP

And Ireland has also announced a staggered easing of restrictions to allow some businesses to re-open and for families to gather ahead of festivities.

Speaking in a televised address, Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the upcoming festive period “cannot and will not be the kind of festive season we are used to” but added the easing of restrictions would offer “some respite from the hardships of 2020 and in particular, the last six weeks”.

Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged more than one million cases on Friday.

Although the virus spread is slowing thanks to weeks of tough restrictions, Europe remains at the heart of the pandemic, recording more cases than the US in the past week.

Until recently, Germany’s relative success in containing the virus had offered some sense of hope, with authorities putting in place some precautions that still allowed life to carry on almost as normal.

However, its measured approach has failed during the second wave, endangering the health of Europe’s biggest economy and weighing on the mood as the northern hemisphere heads into the winter holidays.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the overall total beyond the one-million mark.

More worryingly, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.

The US surpassed 13 million total cases on Friday – the world’s highest – and officials were concerned whether gatherings on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday would further worsen the situation in the coming weeks.

The virus clouded the traditional Black Friday shopping day, but experts were expecting strong online sales.

Worry over the virus’s rapid spread led Los Angeles county to announce a temporary ban on gatherings of people from different households, with religious services and protests exempt.

The order affecting the US’ second-largest city will take effect tomorrow and last at least three weeks, until December 20, the county’s public health department said.

California last week imposed a night-time curfew across much of the state.

The pandemic is spreading fastest in Asia and Latin America, and is up by a worrying 113 per cent over the week in Mexico.

Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and 61 million infections have been officially recorded, although the real numbers are unknown since testing and reporting methods vary greatly.

With the virus on the march and the rollout of the first vaccines not expected until next month, much of the world faces a gloomy winter under more lockdowns, with an accompanying increase in economic anxiety and mental strain.

Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save healthcare systems from collapse.

One hairdresser in northern England has become a cause celebre among social media libertarians after stacking up fines totalling GBP17,000 (USD23,000), invoking the Magna Carta of 1215.

Among others invoking Magna Carta to stay open have been a tattoo parlour in Bristol, western England, and a children’s soft-play centre in Liverpool, in the northwest.

Law enforcers have taken a dim view, meting out fines and reminding all businesses that legislation of this year, not 800 years ago, is relevant and binding.