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Fear of cases surge after Europe's summer holidays

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Countries that had experienced a northern summer respite from coronavirus outbreaks are tracking swiftly rising numbers of new cases, prompting fears among health authorities that months of hard-won progress could be lost in just days as holiday-makers return home.

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New restrictions on leisure activities accompanied the final weeks of the summer break in Europe.

Hours-long traffic jams formed at the Croatia-Slovenia border over the weekend as Austrians trying to beat a midnight quarantine deadline rushed home from a favoured coastal vacation spot.

The Italian government meanwhile closed discos, required masks from 6pm to 6am anywhere people might gather and began testing all arriving travellers from Spain, Greece, Malta and Croatia.

“Our priority must be the re-opening of schools in September in full safety,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.

Italy’s schools have been closed since early March.

France’s two largest cities, Paris and Marseille, widened the areas where masks are required, and the French government sent riot police to the Marseille region to enforce the requirement.

The country’s labour minister is planning negotiations for Tuesday on making masks mandatory in all workplaces and other employee safety measures.

French government studies indicated that at least a quarter of new virus clusters that emerged from May 9 to August 11 were linked to workplaces.

“We need a culture of masks, a culture of protective measures. We failed to deliver this clear message in the first wave,” Giles Pialoux, the head of infectious diseases at Tenon Hospital in Paris, told France Inter radio on Monday.

“We need strong and coherent messages. I think the strategy of fear does not work.”

In Greece, health officials attributed many new infections to wedding receptions and people ignoring social distancing and other public health protective measures while on holiday.

Authorities began carrying out spot checks on ferry passengers returning to the mainland from the Greek islands amid growing concern of travellers transporting the virus back to cities.

Three young Greeks reportedly broke quarantine on Sunday night while waiting for their virus test results on the island of Patmos and boarded a ferry to the port of Piraeus outside of Athens.

Two of the three tested positive and all three were detained.

Despite the rise in cases, officials say schools will re-open as planned in Greece on September 7.

Schools in northern regions of the Netherlands are re-opening this week with most pupils expected back in classrooms by Wednesday without social distancing or face masks.

Students returning from holidays in high-risk areas must quarantine at home for 14 days.

Education Minister Arie Slob insisted it is safe to return to high schools but told NOS Radio 1 news that “there is never a 100 per cent guarantee that everything will go well”.

In the far grimmer case of Lebanon, reported coronavirus cases have surged after the devastating blast at the Beirut port earlier this month, prompting medical officials on Monday to call for a two-week lockdown.

The blast overwhelmed the city’s hospitals and badly damaged two playing a key role in treating COVID-19 patients.

A new outbreak in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, prompted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to delay the country’s general election by four weeks.

In South Korea, a pastor who has been a bitter critic of the country’s president tested positive for the coronavirus, health authorities said on Monday, two days after he participated in an anti-government protest in Seoul that drew thousands.

More than 300 virus cases have been linked to the Reverend Jun Kwang-hun’s huge church in northern Seoul, which has emerged as a major cluster of infections amid growing fears of a massive outbreak in the greater capital region.

The resurgence of the virus in the Seoul region was a rude awakening for a country that had been eager to tout its gains against the virus.

-AAP

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