MADRID: Spain declared a national state of emergency on Sunday to tackle a second coronavirus wave as the World Health Organisation reported a third straight day of record new infections across the world.
The WHO has warned that some countries are on a “dangerous track”, with too many witnessing an exponential increase in cases, and called on countries to take further action to curb the spread of the disease.
In total, the UN agency’s figures showed that 465,319 cases were declared on Saturday alone, half of them in Europe.
Covid-19 has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people — a fifth of them in the United States — and infected more than 42 million globally.
The WHO has said that the northern hemisphere was at an especially critical juncture with winter looming.
As the disease continued its relentless march across Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced the new state of emergency and overnight curfews across the entire country except for the Canary Islands.
The move came after Spain became the first EU member state to pass the grim milestone of one million cases. “The situation we are going through is extreme,” Sanchez said.
Italy — the epicentre of the first European outbreak — also ramped up restrictions on daily life, ordering the closure of theatres, cinemas and gyms and shutting bars and restaurants early.
Governments are struggling to balance new restrictions against the need to revive economies already battered by earlier draconian lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
But populations weary of social isolation and economic hardship have bristled at the tougher measures.
“This is going to destroy us,” Augusto D’Alfonsi, who owns the Torricella family-run fish restaurant in Rome, said after the new measures were announced.
“We’ve already lost 50 percent of our customers this year. Without government aid, we’re done for.” Dozens of far-right protesters in Rome clashed with riot police overnight during a demonstration against a curfew, setting off fireworks, burning bins and throwing projectiles.
There has also been opposition to tighter curbs in Spain, but some said they accepted that there need to be controls.
“The curfew is good for those who are drinking in the street a lot lately, because at our age people go out a lot, they are uncontrolled and then what happens, happens,” said 17-year-old student Juan Pelayo in the town of Valladolid.
“You can infect your parents, then your parents go to work, they infect everybody, you have to keep in mind that there are elderly people, and elderly people might die.” The United States remains the hardest-hit country on the planet, and on Saturday it set a daily record for new Covid-19 cases for the second straight day, at nearly 89,000, with a further surge expected as cold weather arrives.
The virus has become a central issue ahead of the November 3 election, with President Donald Trump sparring over his handling of the pandemic with challenger Joe Biden.
And US Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, the latest in a list of figures connected to Trump’s administration to do so.
“The idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this thing up is nonsense,” said Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, who hit the campaign trail on Saturday to campaign for Biden, his former deputy.
The virus has claimed more than 224,000 American lives and a majority of voters say Trump has handled the crisis poorly.