Authorities urge mask wearing as coronavirus on the rebound in Europe

Italian governor warns of travel risks as virus makes inroads into places that had escaped worst

Cyclists wear protective face masks as they ride on a street in Antwerp. Britain and Belgium have imposed travel restrictions on one another. Photograph:  Francois Walschaerts/AFP via Getty Images

Cyclists wear protective face masks as they ride on a street in Antwerp. Britain and Belgium have imposed travel restrictions on one another. Photograph: Francois Walschaerts/AFP via Getty Images

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Authorities issued appeals to the public to don face masks, keep distancing and exercise caution towards travel as a string of countries registered spikes in coronavirus infections across Europe.

In France, cases have risen steeply to reach levels not seen since May, with more than 3,600 infections registered within 48 hours this week.

“The virus continues to circulate very actively worldwide. There is an upward trend in France and Europe,” health ministry chief Jerome Salomon told a news conference. President Emmanuel Macron called a meeting of a defence council to address the rise and urged citizens to don face masks even in outdoor spaces.

“I recommend the utmost vigilance,” Mr Macron said. “Get used to wearing your masks.”

Italy saw a jump of 552 cases on Friday, the highest level since May, with the northeastern region of Veneto accounting for almost a third of the infections.

“Vacations are a risk,” warned Veneto governor Luca Zaia, saying that most cases were found in people who had returned from travel in Spain, Peru, Malta, Croatia, and Greece.

“Everyone must decide where they want to go on vacation, but it’s also true, that by us, for a couple of weeks now, we’re seeing a concentration of patients who were infected on vacation.”

Lockdowns

Health officials in Greece have sounded the alarm over an uptick in cases including on popular tourist islands, after its public health body recorded 150 overnight in the highest level for weeks.

Preston became the latest British city to be put under tightened lockdown measures, as Britain and Belgium imposed travel restrictions on each other. A pork processing plant in West Flanders reported 67 coronavirus infections, joining a string mass outbreaks in the meat industry, including in Ireland, Greece, Germany, the United States and Australia.

Norway warned its citizens against all travel abroad, while Austria became the latest country to restrict travel to Spain due to an upsurge in the virus there as it reported 1,895 new infections in a day.

Spanish health experts have called for an independent assessment of why Spain became one of the worst hit countries, despite its strong health system.

“This evaluation should not be conceived as an instrument for apportioning blame,” the 20 experts wrote in the Lancet, asking why there had been more than 28,000 deaths and more than 50,000 health workers infected in a country with “one of the best performing health systems in the world”.

Inroads

The disease appears to be making inroads in countries that previously escaped the worst of the pandemic, with upticks in infections in both Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have so far seen just 389 and 31 deaths respectively.

Further afield Hong Kong, which is experiencing a third wave of infections, made free mass testing available for all citizens. The country has managed to limit deaths to just 46, but has seen an uptick in cases with new diagnoses coming in at a rate of over 100 per day for almost a fortnight.

Japan, which has had a death toll so far of just over 1,000, is also experiencing mounting cases with 1,580 infections reported on Friday.

The city of Melbourne in Australia has begun a six-week total lockdown, while the Philippines has reimposed a lockdown on about a quarter of the country’s 107 million people, after seeing a surge of cases in and around its capital Manila that fuelled infections to jump by 3,561 on Thursday.

Despite steeply rising cases in Poland, the government said a lockdown was not on the cards.

“There is no way that we would impose a general lockdown again,” said health minister Lukasz Szumowski. “There is no talk today, with the rising number of infected people or very high number of those who are still infected, of coming back to closing the economy.”

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