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Madrid back in lockdown as Europe virus cases up 28% over week

Health Minister Salvador Illa said the Socialist-led government would declare a state of emergency, giving it powers to reimpose the measures on 4.5 million people in and around the capital.

Members of the Spanish Military Emergencies Unit (UME) wearing protective gear prepare to disinfect the Lope de Vega Cultural Center in the Vallecas neighbourhood where rapid antigen test for COVID-19 were conducted to residents of the area, on 30 September 2020 in Madrid. Picture: AFP

MADRID - Spain's government declared a state of emergency and a new partial lockdown for the virus-hit Madrid area on Friday after seeing its previous measures struck down in court, with the wrangling emblematic of the difficulties faced by governments around Europe.

While drastic restrictions imposed on citizens during lockdowns in March and April were largely accepted, governments are facing increased resistance as they try to contain a second wave of coronavirus infections at the start of autumn.

In Madrid, restrictions from the central government barring people from leaving the city except for work, school or medical reasons have been loudly opposed by right-wing city authorities and were rejected by a regional court on Thursday.

In response, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the Socialist-led government would declare a state of emergency, giving it powers to reimpose the measures on 4.5 million people in and around the capital.

"Protecting the health of Madrid's people is absolutely essential," Illa said.

The resistance in Madrid echoes difficulties the French government faced last month when it shut bars and restaurants in the southern port of Marseille, where elected city and regional authorities reacted with fury.

Partial shutdowns have since been extended to Paris and other major urban areas, while another four regional cities were placed on maximum coronavirus alert on Thursday, meaning they will have to shut bars and limit public gatherings.

"The health situation in France, alas, is continuing to worsen," Health Minister Olivier Veran told the nation in a live broadcast on Thursday evening.

In Britain, where around a quarter of the 67 million population are living in areas under restrictions, a senior minister has admitted a sense of "frustration".

"We know and we understand that in some of the places where we've imposed local restrictions, we haven't yet seen the impact that we would like to have seen, and we understand that's extremely frustrating to people in those areas," Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, told Sky News on Thursday.

Mayors in several northern English towns including Manchester and Middlesbrough have threatened to defy the government.

LOSING CONTROL

Overall, the coronavirus has continued its progression around the world this week, with 315,000 new cases on average per day, or six percent more than the previous week, according to an AFP tally on Friday.

Once again, the increase was most marked in Europe, which recorded 28 percent more cases than the previous seven-day period.

In Germany, considered one of the best-performing countries worldwide in managing the pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Friday that high-infection areas would be given 10 days to bring down infections before tougher action is taken.

"We all sense that the big cities, the urban areas, are now the arena where we will see if we can keep the pandemic under control in Germany as we have done for months, or if we lose control," Merkel said after talks with German mayors.

Russia meanwhile registered a record 12,126 new coronavirus infections on Friday, surpassing its previous daily high set in May.

Russian officials have declined to impose any new restrictions since they were lifted in May, but the new figures appear to be prompting a re-think.

In the world's hardest-hit country, the United States, President Donald Trump announced tentative plans to hold rallies this weekend, despite receiving treatment all week for coronavirus.

Trump's doctor issued a statement saying he was fit for a "safe return to public engagement" from Saturday.

But there is widespread scepticism about the president's true state of health, given doctors' refusal to explain exactly when he was infected and when he last had a negative test.

STRANDED MIGRANTS

As the costs of the global pandemic continue to rise in terms of lost lives and businesses, the United Nations released figures on Friday showing the toll on the world's migrant workers.

The UN's International Organization for Migration said around 2.75 million migrants who wished to return home have been stranded abroad because of restrictions put in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Border closures and restrictions on air travel meant many were stranded abroad in need of assistance, including food, water, shelter and repatriation, the IOM said.

Most of them - 1.26 million - were from the Middle East and North Africa, with another million from Asia and the Pacific.

There were also new cancellations in the world of sport.

Next year's Tokyo marathon has been postponed until after the delayed 2020 Olympics, while the one-day Paris-Roubaix cycling race on October 25 has also been scrapped.

But in a rare display of sporting normality on Sunday, New Zealand and Australia will play the first rugby Test since the start of the pandemic in front of a packed, largely mask-free crowd in Wellington.