New rules on wearing masks have come into effect from England to Romania this week as European countries begin to see an uptick in coronavirus cases. Overall, Europe has had more than 201,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll from the coronavirus worldwide is much higher, due to limited testing and other issues. By comparison, the United States currently reports 144,524 deaths with numbers on the rise.
How have things changed across Europe since it slowly started to reopen to international visitors? Here’s what we know:
A new rule came into effect Friday in London, with people entering shops, banks, and supermarkets now required to wear face masks. People in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds (US$127) by police if they refuse. The British government had given mixed signals for weeks before deciding on the policy. Places like restaurants, pubs, gyms, and hairdressers are exempt.
John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said officers would be available as a last resort but added that he hopes the public “will continue to do the right thing” to protect other citizens. Britain has Europe’s worst recorded pandemic toll at over 45,600 deaths.
In Belgium, new infections surged 89 percent from the previous week. Authorities have bolstered restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, including making masks mandatory in crowded outdoor public spaces. Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic, with 64,847 cases and 9,812 deaths registered so far.
Romania set an all-time high for daily new infections Friday and authorities blamed the surge on a failure to wear masks properly. Many in Romania haven’t been wearing masks indoors or on public transport. A relaxing of measures also stripped authorities of the ability to quarantine or isolate the new cases or keep COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
France, too, is seeing case numbers rising, with more than 1,000 new infections reported Thursday as people let their guard down heading into the country’s summer break.
Health authorities say cases on the French mainland have surged 66 percent in the past three weeks and 26 percent in the last week alone. Concerns about rising cases had already prompted the government to make mask-wearing mandatory in all indoor public spaces this week.
In Italy, new infections reported Thursday jumped to over 300, the first time they surpassed that number since mid-June. Most new cases came from northern Italy, where the outbreak in Europe began, but southern regions have lately been seeing clusters of infections. Many recent cases have been traced to people returning from abroad, most of them foreign workers. Other clusters were among migrants rescued at sea and vacationers.
Last week, the mayor of the tourist-mecca island of Capri ordered people to wear masks in the streets. Capri’s main square, with its trendy cafés and narrow streets, had been jammed with holidaygoers, many not wearing masks.
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Friday ordered everyone entering Italy who had been in either Romania or Bulgaria during the last 14 days to self-quarantine. Across Italy, masks must be worn in shops, banks, on public transport, and outdoors where it’s impossible to keep a safe distance apart.
Some clusters in Europe have been linked to workplaces, including at slaughterhouses in Germany. German authorities plan to set up testing stations at airports to encourage people arriving from high-risk countries to get tested for the coronavirus. They also will allow people arriving from other places to get tested for free within three days—though not at airports.
Friday’s decision by the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states came amid mounting concern that holidaymakers could bring the virus back with them. There’s also concern that not everyone returning from a long list of countries designated as high-risk is self-quarantining for 14 days as they’re supposed to (unless they test negative).
Berlin’s state health minister, Dilek Kalayci, said that “in the end we want to call on all people returning to Germany to get tested.”
Russia, which had halted all international flights and shut down its borders in late March to stem the outbreak, is resuming international flights starting on August 1 with just three countries—Britain, Turkey, and Tanzania—while the government works to expand the list. Earlier this month, Russia didn’t make the list of countries whose citizens are allowed to travel to European Union countries. So far, Russia’s health officials have reported over 800,000 confirmed cases and 13,046 deaths.
Associated Press writers across Europe contributed to this report.
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