Italy, Spain, France welcome vacationers and reject lockdown despite COVID-19 rise
Italy, Spain and France saw the number of new coronavirus cases rise further Wednesday as outbreaks among returning tourists and party-goers continue to expand.
Despite the grim numbers, Italy joined France and Spain in rejecting the possibility of reintroducing the nationwide lockdown that clobbered the economy. Health minister Roberto Speranza ruled out the measure in an interview earlier Wednesday.
“I exclude the hypothesis of a lockdown for our country now,” the minister said. “We have few cases and the situation is under control, with pressure on hospitals that is very low, minimal.”
Italy, the original European epicenter of the pandemic, registered 1,367 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the most since May 12. France reported 5,429 new Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, a four-month high that comes after important surges in recent days. Spain reported 3,594 infections, close to the four-month high of 3,715 recorded earlier this month.
The Spanish government has announced that it is ready to make 2,000 soldiers available for contact tracing if requested by regional authorities, who oversee health policy. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday that another lockdown is not on the table. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron had ruled out another general lockdown, saying though that targeted, local confinements could be implemented.
In all three countries, outbreaks since mid-July have been fueled by summer-time social gatherings and lax social distancing among young adults, among other factors. Many of the new cases in Italy involve younger vacationers returning either from within the country or from abroad. Yet the number of hospitalized and deaths has remained low, well below the levels seen during the pandemic peak in spring.
To stem the new spread of the contagion, Italy stepped up testing in ports and airports for arrivals from at-risk countries, with a record 93,529 tests carried out Wednesday. It has already closed nightclubs and tightened rules on mask wearing.
“I hear people say that Italy is a model, but I am very cautious,” Speranza said in the interview. “We still have much to do. God forbid people should think that the battle has been won.”
French Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a press conference on Thursday to address the health situation as local restrictions are implemented, such as in Marseille, France’s second largest city, where mask are now mandatory everywhere and bars and restaurants forced to close after 11:00pm.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)