Coronavirus Europe: Spain infections fall despite keeping bars open

Spain may have tamed its second wave of coronavirus infections without closing bars or imposing harsh local lockdowns of the kind being planned in the UK and elsewhere. 

The country saw a steep rise in cases after it began reopening non-essential businesses in mid-May, around two weeks ahead of the UK, and had the highest infection rate in Europe throughout August and September.

But that trend has now started to reverse with infections falling to an average of 9,500 this week from 11,200 two weeks ago, despite the country keeping bars and restaurants open and largely avoiding local lockdowns – with travel bans that ministers had tried to impose on Madrid slapped down by the city’s highest court today. 

The figures suggest that curbing the spread of infection is possible without shuttering bars and restaurants as the UK and France are planning to do, and that a downturn from measures that have already been put in place may be a fortnight away.

Measures adopted by Spain include 1am curfews on bars and restaurants, mandatory table service, strict social distancing, face masks both indoors and outdoors, and capacity limits in crowded public places such as beaches. 

Coronavirus cases are on the rise throughout much of Europe – with France reporting its highest one-day total ever on Wednesday, with sharp spikes in Italy and Germany recorded

Spain infections

Spain deaths

Spain was seeing some of the highest infection rates in Europe in September (left), but the number of cases has begun falling in the last two weeks, while deaths also appear to have stabilised

Those living in Madrid will still be forced to comply with some lockdown measures starting today, including a six-person cap on gatherings and limits to restaurant, bar and shop capacity and opening hours.

However, these measures are not responsible for Spain’s falling numbers as they have not taken effect yet. Ministers are also urging people to comply with travel bans, despite them being ruled illegal. 

European leaders will be keeping a close eye on Spain’s dropping totals as they grapple with how to curb infections whilst avoiding lockdowns of the kind seen earlier this year that devastated their economies. 

In France, ministers have already shuttered bars and imposed curfews on the country’s two largest cities – Paris and Marseille – and are preparing to impose similar measures on other cities today.

Health minister Olivier Véran is due to make a statement this afternoon, and has already hinted that Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse are likely to be targeted.

It comes after the country recorded 18,746 new infections on Wednesday, the country’s highest one-day total of the entire pandemic, though deaths and hospital admissions are still well below their peak – suggesting the rise is not as dramatic as it appears.

‘The virus has been spreading faster in recent weeks,’ President Emmanuel Macron said late Wednesday.

‘In places where it is spreading too fast, especially where it is spreading among the elderly who are most at risk, and where there are more and more intensive care beds being occupied, we must proceed to more restrictions.’

Experts have urged caution when examining case totals during the ‘second wave’ of the pandemic, saying they are not comparable to those in the first wave since testing is now far more widespread. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also planning to impose strict measures on 10million people across the north including the closure of all pubs and restaurants and restrictions on non-essential travel.

It comes after the UK saw a rapid acceleration in its coronavirus case numbers with 14,542 new cases reported Wednesday – triple the number logged a fortnight ago. 

France has introduced local lockdowns in Marseille and Paris (pictured), with bars closed and restaurants on curfew, with more restrictions due for other parts of the country today

France has introduced local lockdowns in Marseille and Paris (pictured), with bars closed and restaurants on curfew, with more restrictions due for other parts of the country today

France infections

France Deaths

France has reported its largest one-day total of coronavirus cases at 18,746 (left) as ministers introduced new local curbs to slow the spread of the virus, as deaths also increased slightly – but are nowhere near levels seen earlier in the outbreak

In Germany, health minister Jens Spahn also warned of a ‘worrying’ increase in infections after Germany’s daily case total rose by more than 40 per cent overnight, from 2,828 to 4,058. 

‘Barely any other country in Europe has managed the crisis as well so far,’ he said, warning people not to ‘gamble away’ what they have achieved while sticking to rules such as mask wearing, hand washing, and social distance.

Italy has also seen a recent uptick in cases, with 3,678 reported Wednesday, though is still well below levels seen earlier in the outbreak.

The worst-affected nations among the ‘second wave’ have emerged as the Czech Republic and Netherlands, which now top the table in terms of infections per head of population, following Spain’s falling numbers.

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis announced the country would be going back into a state of emergency this week for 30 days after a ‘rocket-like’ rise in cases over the last two weeks.

The country’s borders will remain open, but no more than 10 people can gather indoors, 20 outdoors, and professional sports must take place behind closed doors.

The Czech Republic had already imposed measures such as limits on bar opening hours, public events and mandatory face-mask wearing.

Meanwhile the Netherlands, which had previously boasted of its ‘intelligent lockdown’ and scorned mask wearing, was forced to rush through emergency measures this week as infections rocketed.

For the first time people in Amsterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven and Rotterdam are being advised to wear face coverings in shops, while bars and restaurants are also being forced to close at 10pm. People are also being encouraged to work from home where they can.  

Netherlands cases

Netherlands deaths

The Netherlands, which had previously bragged of an ‘intelligent lockdown’ and avoided mask-wearing, has seen cases sky-rocket in recent weeks and now has one of the highest infection rates in Europe (left). Deaths have also begun rising (right)

Germany infections

Germany deaths

German health authorities warned of a ‘worrying’ spike in infections after their case total increased by 40 per cent overnight (left), though deaths have remained largely stable (right)

Italy infections

Italy deaths

Italy has also seen a sudden rise in coronavirus cases, though the daily toll is still below where it was earlier in the pandemic (left) and the number of deaths has not yet started to rise (right) 

In Madrid, a local court rejected strict new lockdown laws imposed on the Spanish capital by the government last week to stem the spread of coronavirus. 

The Health Ministry had banned 4.8 million people in the city from leaving their local areas except for essential business on Friday.

Mallorca and Ibiza gear up to battle THIRD wave of coronavirus 

The holiday islands of Mallorca and Ibiza are gearing up to battle a third wave of coronavirus.

Health chiefs say they don’t know if it will strike in the next few weeks or during Christmas but they are sure it is coming.

It is the first time any Spanish region has talked in public about a third wave but the Balearic government says it is already making contingency plans to deal with it.

The prospects of more coronavirus outbreaks will, however, dent plans for any tourism revival this year. It’s also a blow for the Balearics where new cases of Covid-19 are finally slowing down under the second wave.

The shock admission came during a press conference to discuss the evolution of the pandemic in Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera.

General director of public health, Maria Antònia Font said they had bent the curve of the second wave and cases were going down but admitted: ‘There will probably be a third. We don’t know when it will arrive but we are working on all scenarios as we don’t want it to take us by surprise. We waited for the second to arrive and it arrived earlier.’

She said they were working on the scenario that a third wave could ‘happen tomorrow’, adding: ‘We are analysing what margins for improvement there are regarding the first and second waves.’

But regional government chief Isabel Diaz Ayuso opposed the order, saying it would ravage the region’s economy, and that the ministry had no power to impose such curbs.

The Madrid regional court sided with her in its ruling, calling the restrictions an ‘interference by public authorities in citizens’ fundamental rights without the legal mandate to support it.’

Madrid has been at the centre of a political impasse between Spain’s national and regional authorities that has irked many people, who see more partisan strategy taking place than real action against the pandemic.

The two sides were meeting later Thursday.

The region has a 14-day infection rate of 591 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, more than twice Spain’s national average of 257 and five times the European average rate of 113 for the week ending September 27. 

However, the R-rate for Madrid – that is the rate of infection – remains below the crucial figure of 1.00 and stands at 0.91 today after it rose to more than 1.50 in July.

A figure higher than 1.00 means that infections are multiplying.

In an initial reaction from the government – which can appeal the ruling – Health Minister Salvador Illa said he had not yet had time to study it. 

‘We will take the legal decisions that best protect health. We are sure that the Community of Madrid will agree with this approach. We do not care much about anything but citizens’ health,’ he told a parliamentary committee without specifying further. 

Ministers had approved the new rules in an attempt to bring infection rates in Madrid down, making it the first European capital to head back into a full lockdown. 

According to WHO data, Europe has recorded more than 6million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, accounting for 18 per cent of the world total.

The continent added almost half a million new cases last week, a slight increase on the previous week, and saw more than 5,000 new deaths.

Most European leaders chose to force their countries into full-scale lockdowns in March as the first wave of the pandemic hit, shuttering all-but essential businesses and keeping people indoors for months at a time.

But amid some of the most dramatic falls in GDP on record leaders began reopening their economies in late Spring, with rises in cases following shortly behind.

Italy, which has kept its coronavirus totals low since the summer, also saw a spike Wednesday as 3,678 cases were reported (pictured, people wear masks at the Trevi fountain in Rome)

Italy, which has kept its coronavirus totals low since the summer, also saw a spike Wednesday as 3,678 cases were reported (pictured, people wear masks at the Trevi fountain in Rome)