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New curfews, 'mega-lockdown' on table as Europe battles virus


All of France will be under a strict 6pm curfew for at least 15 days to fight the spread of coronavirus, while Germany is considering a national “mega-lockdown” as virus deaths spike.


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The French government also revealed strict new controls for those arriving in France from countries outside the European Union.

Starting on Monday, they must produce a PCR test with negative results and self-isolate for seven days followed by a new, negative test.

The government is trying to avoid a third lockdown with partial measures such as curfews.

Most regions were under an 8pm curfew but from Saturday everyone must be home at 6pm. That means stores must close by then. Bars and restaurants have been closed for months.

There were 21,228 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, fewer than the 23,852 on Wednesday, while health ministry data showed 282 people had died from the virus in hospitals, up from 229 on Wednesday.

The total death toll stood at 69,313 and the cumulative number of cases stood at 2,851,670.

France has one of the highest death counts in Europe and ranks seventh in the world behind countries such as the US, Brazil and the UK.

In Germany, the government is considering a tighter national lockdown after registering a new record number of deaths from the coronavirus.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted a “mega-lockdown”, mass-selling newspaper Bild reported, shutting down the country almost completely for fear of fast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in the UK.

She was considering measures including shutting down both local and long-distance public transport, though such steps had not yet been decided, Bild said.

However, state officials were resisting tighter measures, state sources told Reuters.

While Germany’s total deaths per capita since the pandemic began remain far lower than the US, its daily per capita mortality since mid-December has often exceeded that of the US.

Germany’s daily death toll currently equates to about 15 deaths per million people versus 13 US deaths per million.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 25,164 new coronavirus cases and 1244 fatalities on Thursday, bringing Germany’s total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 43,881.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, ruling parties in the eastern state of Thuringia said they were postponing a regional election scheduled for April 25 until September 26, the same day as this year’s federal election.

Germany initially managed the pandemic better than its neighbours with a strict lockdown last spring but it has had a sharp rise in cases and deaths in recent months, with the RKI saying people were not taking the virus seriously enough.

RKI president Lothar Wieler said on Thursday restrictions were not being implemented as consistently as they were during the first wave and said more people should work from home, adding that the current lockdown needed to be tightened further.

Germany introduced a partial lockdown in November that kept shops and schools open but tightened the rules in mid-December, closing non-essential stores, and children have not returned to classrooms since the Christmas holidays.

Hospitals in 10 out of Germany’s 16 states are facing bottlenecks as 85 per cent of intensive care unit beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, Wieler said.

Merkel was due to speak to ministers on Thursday about ramping up production of vaccines.

So far only about 1.0 per cent of the German population has been vaccinated, or 842,455 people, the RKI reported.

Germany has so far recorded 16 cases of people with the fast-spreading strain of the virus first detected in the UK and four with the strain from South Africa, Wieler said, although he admitted gene sequencing of samples was not being done broadly.

Brazil hospitals running out of oxygen

Hospitals in Brazil’s northern state of Amazonas have run short of oxygen and made an urgent call for help from the United States, as Britain slapped a ban on new arrivals from Brazil over fears of a new homegrown coronavirus variant.

Researchers say the new variant could be contributing to the sharp rise in cases in Amazonas state, although they are conducting more studies to ascertain if it is more contagious than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

Amazonas, where nearly 6000 people have died from COVID-19, is suffering a devastating second wave that is pushing emergency services to a breaking point.

Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the situation in Manaus, the state’s capital city, was extremely serious, with its hospital system collapsing and oxygen lacking.

Amazonas made a dramatic appeal to the United States to send a military transport plane to the capital city Manaus with oxygen cylinders, Congressman Marcelo Ramos told Reuters.

Health authorities said oxygen supplies had run out at some hospitals and intensive care wards were so full that scores of patients were being flown to other states.

Britain said it would ban travellers from Brazil, several other South American countries and Portugal after Japan recently detected the new variant in four travellers from Amazonas.

This one features 12 mutations, including one also found in highly infections variants recently discovered in Britain and South Africa that have begun circulating around the globe.

-with AAP

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