France, Poland and Ukraine impose new lockdown measures

Residents in Poland, France and Ukraine’s capital Kyiv face new restrictions, with most shops shut and people urged to work from home.

A woman walks in front of teddy bears displayed on the terrace of a closed restaurant in Paris on the first day of a new lockdown [Anne-Christine Poijoulat/AFP]

Poland, France and Ukraine have introduced partial lockdowns as they battle surging coronavirus infections.

Residents in Poland, parts of France, including Paris and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv faced new restrictions on Saturday, with most shops shut and people urged to work from home.

The imposition of new curbs comes as the pace of the European Union’s vaccination rollout remains sluggish and several member states face a third wave of the virus.

In France, the government introduced new measures after a jump in COVID-19 cases in Paris and other parts of northern France.

Under the new measures, non-essential businesses in Paris are closed, while schools remain open and outdoor exercise is allowed up to 10 kilometres (six miles) from home.

As in previous lockdowns, a form will be needed to justify why a person has left home in areas under the new restrictions.

President Emmanuel Macron insisted on Friday that the word “lockdown”, was not appropriate to describe the government’s strategy.

“What we want is to put a brake on the virus without shutting ourselves in. This is not being locked down,” he said at a meeting at the Elysee Palace. “Strictly speaking, the term lockdown is not right,” he added.

The government argues the measures are needed to relieve pressure on intensive care units which are close to overflowing.

Stacked tables are seen on the terrace of a closed restaurant in Nice as France’s 16 hardest-hit departments will go into a third lockdown imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease [Eric Gaillard/Reuters]

Third wave

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler reporting from Paris said that despite these measures being more flexible than the previous ones, the government has insisted it is important to follow them.

“They are calling upon employers to make sure that as many staff as possible work from home … the government say … that parts of the country are firmly in a third wave.

“COVID infections have been rising over the last few weeks, nearly 40,000 a day for the last few days, that’s certainly much higher than 10 days ago when it was about 20,000 a day.

“And in Paris doctors say that the intensive care units are nearly saturated, in fact, some hospitals in the city had to fly their patients out of the city to hospitals in different regions of France,” Butler said.

Meanwhile, in Germany, cases are rising at a “very clearly exponential rate”, a top public health institute said on Friday, with many expecting new curbs on work and social life to be introduced in the coming days.

The Robert Koch Institute reported 17,482 new infections in the previous 24 hours and 226 deaths in Germany, with the seven-day incidence rate soaring to 96 per 100,000 people despite a months-long shutdown of large swathes of public life.

German leaders agreed earlier this month to impose new restrictions in regions where the seven-day incidence rate surpassed 100.

“We are in the third wave of the pandemic, the numbers are rising, the percentage of virus mutations is high,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that Germany must not hesitate to introduce emergency measures and return to a hard lockdown if necessary.

A woman with flowers on her head attends a protest against the government’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Kassel, Germany [Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters]

Frustrations with COVID-19 curbs spilled over on Saturday, with scuffles breaking out at a large anti-restrictions protest in the German city of Kassel, and thousands joining a similar demonstration in Liestal, Switzerland.

“End the lockdown” and “Corona rebels”, read signs held by demonstrators at the protest in Kassel, which was organised by a group that has drawn in activists from both the far-left and far-right as well as anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.

“I think Europe and many other countries around the world are, or at least the population perceives, that they are in an endless cycle of epidemics going up, and epidemics going down, and that cycle is accompanied by lockdowns and subsequent relaxations,” Marc Van Ranst a professor at the University of Leuven and the Rega Institute for Medical Research, said.

“That puts a lot of pressure on the population to keep the morale high, it is not easy … and I think that the only solution to stop that endless cycle is going to be the vaccination programme,” he added.

Globally, COVID-19 has killed 2.7 million people while more than 69 million have recovered according to data released by Johns Hopkins University.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies