Further protests are expected on Saturday with rallies called in Barcelona, Madrid, the northern towns of Pamplona and Logrono and in Majorca.
Four more people were arrested following another night of violent protests over the jailing of a rapper for controversial tweets, police said on Saturday.
It was the fourth straight night that demonstrators had taken to the streets, although Friday night’s protests only occurred in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
A police spokesman said two people were arrested in Barcelona and another two in the northern city of Girona and that eight officers were injured in the clashes.
Separately, medics said another six people sustained light injuries.
Angry demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday night after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel, 32, who was holed up in a Catalan university to avoid going to jail in a case that has raised concerns about free speech in Spain.
Worst-hit on Friday was Barcelona, where some 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the evening with the protest soon deteriorating into violence.
Hooded demonstrators hurled stones, firecrackers and bottles at police and torched barricades made of rubbish bins and restaurant chairs. At least one restaurant was also set alight.
They also smashed up several banks and shops, which suffered looting, police said.
More than 100 people have been arrested since the protests began, 16 of them on Thursday night. Scores of people have been injured, among them many police officers, but also a young woman who lost an eye after being hit by a foam round fired by police.
Split in ruling coalition
Although most of the protests started in Catalonia, where the rapper is from, they have spread to other cities including Madrid, the eastern city of Valencia and Granada in the south.
Further protests are expected on Saturday with rallies called in Barcelona, Madrid, the northern towns of Pamplona and Logrono and in Majorca.
The clashes have also sparked a political row that has exacerbated a divide within Spain’s leftwing coalition, which groups the Socialists of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the hard-left Podemos.
While the Socialists have firmly opposed the violence, Podemos’ leadership has backed the protesters.
The party emerged from the anti-austerity “Indignados” protest movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011. Their position is that the Hasel case exposes Spain’s “democratic shortcomings”.
Known for his hard-left views, Hasel was handed a nine-month sentence over tweets glorifying terrorism and videos inciting violence. The court ruling said freedom of expression could not be used “as a ‘blank cheque’ to praise the perpetrators of terrorism”.
He was also fined about 30,000 euros ($36,000) for insults, libel and slander for tweets likening former king Juan Carlos I to a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.
At the time, about a thousand people massed on Meridiana Avenue, blocking one of Barcelona’s key arteries.
As has happened every night for over a year, dozens of protesters demanding independence from Spain sit down in the middle of a wide Barcelona avenue, bringing traffic to a standstill.
Though just a handful, they are supporters of Catalonia’s powerful separatist movement which is gearing up for an important regional election on Sunday that could ease a years-long crisis over the thorny question of independence.
The movement, whose two main parties dominate the regional government, has faced a growing crisis since 2017 following a failed bid to break away from Spain.
“Before the pandemic there were more of us but people are tired. There is political disenchantment,” says 70-year-old Amadeu Pallister, who swears he has been at every one of the more than 300 nightly protests held so far on Meridiana Avenue.
“Some politicians are talking about dialogue, about negotiating with Madrid, but we already know you can’t expect anything from Spain, only repression,” he told AFP.
“The only solution is independence.”
The nightly demonstrations began in October 2019 when Spain’s Supreme Court handed lengthy prison terms to nine Catalan separatist leaders over their role in the 2017 crisis, sparking mass protests, some of them violent.
At the time, about a thousand people massed on Meridiana Avenue, blocking one of Barcelona’s key arteries.
Keeping the independence spirit alive After a year of nightly protests that only stopped during the months-long coronavirus lockdown last spring, the number of participants has dwindled to just a few dozen, who spread out across the eight lanes of traffic ignoring angry honking from drivers.
“It is just not logical to keep doing this for so long: cutting traffic every day for two hours,” said Vicente Serrano, a 61-year-old human resources manager who lives in the neighbourhood.
“But because it’s in the Catalan government’s interest to keep this alive, it accepts and encourages it.”
Serrano fears Sunday’s election will return the separatist parties to power.
They’ve ruled this region of 7.8 million people since 2015 but are coming to the polls strongly divided over the question of exactly how to achieve independence.
And the region itself is divided, with a December poll showing 45.1 percent in favour of independence from Spain and 49.9 percent against, with leaders of the two camps routinely attacking each other.
“In this election, the general tension has given way to internal tension within the independence movement,” says Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
The movement is divided into two main currents with the hardline JxC — “Together for Catalonia” — heading the coalition alongside the more moderate ERC, or “Republican Left of Catalonia”.
JxC has taken a more confrontational approach, pledging a new declaration of independence if it wins while ERC has softened its position, becoming an ally of Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in the national parliament.
Differences to the fore Ahead of the vote, ERC has accused its rival of not being “realistic”, while JxC argues that ERC’s strategy will lead separatism into a “dead end”.
“The independence movement must decide which direction it’s heading in, whether that of ERC or JxC,” says Bartomeus.
“These elections will provide the answer.”
The Socialists have high hopes after tapping former health minister Salvador Illa, the public face of Spain’s fight against the pandemic, as their candidate for the top post in Catalonia.
Polls suggest the Socialists could come in the first place but the ERC looks poised to play kingmaker.
“ERC has all the cards in its hands,” said political analyst Josep Ramoneda.
The party could form a leftist government with the Socialists and far-left party Podemos, or form another separatist government with JxC, he said, even if ERC has repeatedly ruled out any agreement with the Socialists.
“Whichever happens, reality will kick in and slow the separatist drive. And anyone seeking to speed it up as they did in 2017 will end up crashing.”
Spain’s press was beaten too easily for the first goal as Switzerland broke at speed.
Sergio Ramos missed two penalties as Spain needed a late equaliser from Gerard Moreno to draw 1-1 with Switzerland in the Nations League on Saturday.
Ramos was making his 177th appearance for Spain to break the international appearances record for a European player, pulling clear of Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, who has 176.
But instead of a celebration in Basel, it was a night to forget for the defender, who saw one spot-kick saved by Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer but backed himself to score a second, only to miss again with a dreadful attempted ‘Panenka’.
Ramos had previously scored 25 penalties in a row and his inaccuracy from the spot cost Spain, who will now have to beat Germany in Sevilla on Tuesday to reach the final four.
Luis Enrique’s side have only scored three times in their last five matches and finishing was their undoing against a well-organised Switzerland, who had led through Remo Freuler.
They also had Nico Elvedi sent off for conceding the second penalty with 11 minutes left, but the hosts held on for a deserved point.
With Ramos out of position, Breel Embolo raced in behind before pulling a cross back to Freuler, who opened up his left foot and skewed the ball brilliantly into the far corner.
Ferran Torres could have equalised on the stroke of half-time but fired over at the back post before Ramos began a frantic half an hour.
First, he brilliantly blocked Freuler’s shot on the line after Unai Simon had made a mess of rushing out and then the Spain captain won the first penalty, his header hitting the arm of Sergio Rodriguez, who had turned his back.
But Ramos was unable to convert, his shot well saved by Sommer, who refused to commit too soon and got down quickly to his right.
Twenty minutes later, Alvaro Morata, on as a substitute, was fouled by Elvedi and Ramos stepped up to make amends only to compound his earlier error by missing again, this time with an attempted chip that Sommer easily collected.
Spain finally found an equaliser in the 89th minute as Moreno capitalised on a tiring Swiss defence by converting Sergio Reguilon’s cross. Switzerland held on for a point.
But the government there is still expected to announce new restrictions on Monday, according to reports.
Protesters in several Spanish cities clashed with security forces for a second night running, police said Sunday, as exasperation and anger over coronavirus restrictions grow worldwide.
The unrest in Spain came as more European nations started locking down to try and stem a worrying spike in infections on the continent which has registered more than 278,000 deaths since the virus first emerged in China at the end of 2019.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the latest leader to impose a new shutdown in England that starts Thursday for at least a month, following in the steps of Austria, France and Ireland.
“This city will go bust, there will be nothing left of it,” said Roger Stenson, a 73-year-old pensioner in the northern city of Nottingham, echoing widespread concern over the long-lasting impact of another shutdown on people’s livelihoods.
“I fear for the young, like my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they’re going to suffer.”
Other countries like Germany and Greece have implemented slightly less restrictive infection-control curbs that nevertheless still involve the closure of bars, restaurants and cultural establishments in what has also caused anguish and resentment.
Barricades and stones
In Spain, anger spilled onto the streets in sometimes violent fashion overnight Saturday, with looting and vandalism breaking out in some cities on the fringe of protests.
The country has imposed a nationwide nighttime curfew and almost all of Spain’s regions have imposed regional border closures to prevent long-distance travel.
The biggest disturbances were in Madrid where scores of demonstrators chanting “freedom!” torched rubbish bins and set up makeshift barricades on the city’s main thoroughfare, the Gran Via, images on social media showed.
When police moved in to clear the gathering, they were pelted with stones and flares.
Other cities in the north also experienced unrest, as did Malaga in the south and Barcelona in the northeast.
Police said they arrested 32 people in total.
Italy was also the scene of protests last week.
These are expected to include banning travel between regions, closing shopping centres at the weekend, limiting commercial activity and imposing an earlier nighttime curfew.
Restrictions also led to unrest in Argentina, where riots took place in several jails in Buenos Aires province on Saturday, as prisoners demanded the resumption of visits in the pandemic.
The health situation is also deteriorating in the United States, which is gearing up for a major election showdown between President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Joe Biden on Tuesday.
Already the worst-affected country with 230,556 deaths, it also registered 776 new fatalities on Saturday, the largest number in the world, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
Top government scientist Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post in a interview published on Saturday that the US is “in for a whole lot of hurt.”
“All the stars are aligned in the wrong place,” he added.
The widely-popular Halloween celebration was a muted affair this year, particularly in Salem, Massachusetts.
The coastal city that infamously held witch trials in the 17th century is a draw for chill-seekers, and while grim reapers, mad scientists and tarot readers still paraded the streets on Saturday, authorities decided to shut down the city at 8 pm to avoid crowds.
“We are discouraging people from coming into Salem on Halloween night, which is so hard for us to do,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office.
“We can’t accommodate the crowds and shoulder-to-shoulder crowding that we usually see on a typical Halloween when we’ll have over 50,000 thousand people in the streets.”
In Germany, the sadness was palpable at the renown Bavarian State Opera House in Munich as it prepared to close.
It is “a slap”, said baritone Michael Nagy, unable to hide his tears.
Director Nikolaus Bachler said he did not understand why public transport and shops were able to keep going while the opera had to close.
“We have a disciplined public. It is possible to master the risks,” said Bachler, whose disappointment has been shared by other colleagues in the entertainment sector.
Displaced Syrians at risk
The virus has killed at least 1,196,109 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged last December, infecting more than 46 million.
And while hospitals in European countries have sounded the alarm about their ability to treat a rapidly rising number of patients, the situation is even worse in other, poorer parts of the world.
In war-torn northwest Syria, where almost 1.5 million people live in overcrowded camps or shelters, often with poor access to running water, fears are running high.
“They tell us, ‘Don’t go out. Don’t cause overcrowding’. But we live in tents barely half a metre apart,” said Mohammad al-Omar, a father of four, in an informal settlement in Idlib, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.
African migrants and refugees are taking a new deadly route to reach Europe’s shores.
Arrivals via the Atlantic path to Spain’s Canary Islands have seen a 520 percent rise compared to last year.
But almost 250 have drowned or gone missing.
In August, 15 lifeless Malians were spotted by a Spanish plane.
So why are migrants taking this route? The answer is twofold.
The increase in traffic comes after the European Union funded Morocco in 2019 to stop migrants from reaching southern Spain via the Mediterranean Sea.
“Morocco is putting more pressure on its northern border, and moves people to the south,” said Txema Santana, Spanish Commission to Help Refugees representative in the Canaries.
He said the reason the path is also becoming popular is because more people from Mali and Senegal have joined the route, especially in this porous border between Mali and Mauritania.”
The UN Commissioner for Refugees says many arrivals, who are potential refugees, are fleeing conflict in the Sahel.
Kassi Diallo fled Mali after his father was killed in an attack by extremists.
“I risked my life in this way because I was so sad,” he said.
“I have too many problems. But it’s not normal. A human being shouldn’t do this. But how else can we do it? It’s tough in Mali. I am in need of international protection, to live my life a bit and settle down so I can forget some things (trauma).”
It can take 10 days from Morocco or The Gambia to reach the Spanish islands and food reserves dry up quickly.
The Islands then become a path for arrivals, who wish to reach other countries such as France.
The Spanish government has raised the alarm over the increase in migration.
Spain has announced a donation of 1.5 million euros in border surveillance equipment to six West African countries.
Children above the age of six in Spain will be required to wear face masks at school at all times, the government said Thursday, as it seeks to restart lessons despite a surge in coronavirus infections.
“The use of masks will be mandatory in general from the age of six, even if social distance is maintained,” Education Minister Isabel Celaa told a news conference ahead of schools’ reopening next month.
Spain’s 17 regional governments, which are responsible for health care and education, have in recent days outlined a patchwork of different measures, leading critics to charge there was a lack of coordination.
The northern region of Cantabria’s requirement for children as young as three to wear masks sparked particular controversy.
As well as mask-wearing, pupils will also have to maintain a social distance of 1.5 metres (five feet) from each other, Celaa said, except for young children who will be allowed to mix only with their classmates but not with outsiders.
Other measures include requiring children to wash their hands at least five times a day, regularly ventilating classrooms and taking pupils’ temperature.
The goal is for children return to schools instead of having online lessons as they did at the end of the last school term due to the pandemic.
“We aim for all students to be present,” Celaa said.
Spain’s schools shut in mid-March when the country imposed a strict three-month lockdown to curb the spread of the virus and have not re-opened since.
New cases are growing at one of the fastest rates in Europe and debate has raged in Spain over how to protect children from infection in schools.
Some parents say they will refuse to send their children back to class because they fear it won’t be safe.
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Spain, a nation of around 47 million people, surpassed 400,000 this week. Nearly 29,000 people have died, one of the world’s highest tolls.
Against this backdrop, local authorities have toughened measures to curb the spread of the virus. Madrid city hall announced Thursday that public swimming pools would close on September 1 and parks will be closed at night.
The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, which include holiday hotspots Ibiza and Mallorca, announced Wednesday that beaches would be shut at night.
With nightclubs and bars closed across Spain, many young people have taken to gathering and drinking in parks and on beaches at night.
New restrictions to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, including the closure of discos and a partial ban on smoking outdoors, went into effect Sunday in two Spanish regions.
The small, northern wine-growing region of La Rioja and the southeastern region of Murcia are the first Spanish regions to implement a raft of new measures which Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa unveiled Friday to be enforced nationwide as the country battles a surge in the disease.
The measures include the closure of all discos, night clubs and dancing halls, while restaurants and bars are required to close by 1:00 am, with no new guests allowed in from midnight.
Visits in retirement homes will be limited, while smoking outdoors in public places is banned when a distance of two metres cannot be maintained.
The ban on smoking on the streets is already in place in two of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, Galicia and the Canary Islands.
Spain’s remaining regional governments are expected to start implementing the new measures in the coming days.
The Basque Region, which neighbours La Rioja, plans to go a step further and will on Monday declare and “health emergency” which will allow it to impose greater restrictions on the size of public gatherings and establish selective confinement in areas where there is a high risk of transmission of the disease.
Nearly 29,000 people have died so far from COVID-19 in Spain, which declared a state of emergency between March 14 and June 21 that allowed the central government to impose restrictions nationwide.
With the state of emergency subsequently lifted, autonomy has been handed back to the regional authorities.
The health ministry has had to negotiate with them to impose the new measures on a nationwide basis.
Spain has a population of 47 million and its infection rate of 110 cases per 100,000 inhabitants is higher than in other European countries.
Spanish-born actor Antonio Banderas has tested positive for coronavirus.
In a post shared on his Instagram page to mark his 60th birthday, Banderas said the development has forced him to celebrate in quarantine.
The multiple award-winning actor, who wrote in Spanish, said he’s “just a little more tired than usual and confident that I will recover as soon as possible.”
“I will take advantage of this isolation to read, write, rest and continue making plans to begin to give meaning to my newly released 60 years to which I arrive loaded with desire and enthusiasm.”
Banderas began his acting career in the 80s and have appeared in such blockbuster movies as Desperado, Assassins, Interview with the Vampire, and The Mask of Zorro.
He won Best Actor at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival for his role in the Spanish film, Pain and Glory.
Greetings to all. I want to make public that today, August 10, I am forced to celebrate my 60th birthday following quarantine after having tested positive for the COVID-19 disease, caused by the coronavirus.
I would like to add that I feel relatively well, just a little more tired than usual and confident that I will recover as soon as possible following the medical indications that I hope will allow me to overcome the infectious process that I suffer and that is affecting so many people around the planet.
I will take advantage of this isolation to read, write, rest and continue making plans to begin to give meaning to my newly released 60 years to which I arrive loaded with desire and enthusiasm.
The British government on Sunday defended its decision to impose an immediate requirement for passengers arriving from Spain to self-isolate amid a resurgence of coronavirus in the popular holiday destination.
The new rules took hold at midnight Saturday, hours after being announced, causing uncertainty for holidaymakers and leading to criticism from travel industry leaders.
“I think it’s quite poor that they did it so instantaneously,” Philip Bradby, 55, told the domestic Press Association after returning early to Britain from Barcelona.
But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government was required to take “swift” action.
“The data we got was on Friday, it showed a big jump right across mainland Spain. That was then assessed yesterday afternoon and we took the decision as swiftly as we could,” Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.
“We can’t make apologies for doing so,” he added.
“I understand it is disruptive for those going through this …but we must though be able to take swift, decisive action.”
Passengers arriving in Britain will have to self-isolate for two weeks following the surge in cases.
“The Joint Biosecurity Centre together with Public Health England have updated their coronavirus assessments of Spain based on the latest data,” said a British government spokesman.
“As a result, Spain has been removed from the lists of countries from which passengers arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are exempted from the need to self-isolate.”
Britain is advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain, but that does not apply to the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands.
Barely a month after Spain ended its months-long state of emergency, new infections have been rising.
Transport minister Grant Shapps was caught in the ruling as he is currently in Spain for his summer break.
Labour called the decision “frankly shambolic”, with shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth saying holidaymakers had been left “confused and distressed”.
The Catalan government on Friday ordered the closure of all nightclubs, discos and event halls across this region of northeastern Spain following a surge in cases of coronavirus.
The order, which will come into effect on Saturday and remain in force for two weeks, was given as Spain watches more than 280 new outbreaks, with virus cases tripling in the past fortnight.
Nearly half of all new cases have been in Catalonia, where just a week ago, officials urged nearly four million residents of metropolitan Barcelona to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
Friday’s order by the region’s civil protection agency also banned musical events with dance floors and imposed a midnight curfew on gambling establishments, casinos, bingo halls, bars and restaurants and their terraces, and music bars.
Barely a month after Spain ended its months-long state of emergency, new infections have been rising, with health officials increasingly pointed to nightlife as fertile ground for the spread of the virus.
Earlier this week, the southeastern region of Murcia also ordered the closure of nightclubs unless they had an outdoor terrace space for customers.
The closure came a month after Barcelona’s nightclubs and discos reopened but within days, regional officials had issued an order banning dancing unless you know your partner well.
Spain has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic which has so far claimed 28,432 lives and infected more than 272,000 people.
France has also been worriedly watching the situation in Catalonia, with Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday urging French nationals “to avoid going there until the health situation improves”.
After 3-month lockdown, Spain reopens border to most European countries and lifts restrictions on movement of citizens.
Spain has opened its borders to most European countries, as well as Britain, as the coronavirus state of emergency ends. Spaniards were also allowed to move freely around the country from Sunday.
A new field hospital in eastern Morocco will receive about 700 new coronavirus patients following a spike in infections in the kingdom, said the government.
Iraqi football legend Ahmad Radhi has died at a hospital in Baghdad as a result of complications from the new coronavirus.
Worldwide, at least 8.75 million people have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, more than 4.3 million have recovered, and more than 464,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Spain has begun an official 10-day mourning period for the tens of thousands of victims of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Starting from Wednesday, all flags on public buildings across the nation and on Spanish naval vessels will be lowered to half-mast until June 5 to pay tribute to the more than 27,000 people that have so far lost their lives.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter this would last for “10 days, the longest period of mourning in our democracy, in which we will all express our sorrow and pay homage to those who have died”.
The mourning period, which was approved at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, would also include a solemn memorial ceremony presided over by Spain’s head of state, King Felipe VI, according to government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero.
The dead are “men and women whose lives have been suddenly cut short, leaving friends and family in great pain, both from the sudden loss and from the difficult circumstances in which it has occurred,” she said following the cabinet meeting.
“Eight out of 10 victims were older than 70, they were those who helped build the country that we know today.”
Spain, where a nationwide lockdown was first imposed on March 14, is one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, registering the fifth-highest number of confirmed cases and deaths.
As of Wednesday, at least 27,111 people had died of COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus. The overall number of known infections stands at more than 236,000, with some 150,000 recoveries.
Spain’s healthcare workers have been severely affected by the virus, with up to 20 percent infected out of the total confirmed case, Al Jazeera’s Marta Herrero reported.
“In the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, the Spanish government decided to consider work accident for all the people that have died and been infected by COVID-19 in the healthcare sector,” she said from the capital, Madrid.
Easing of restrictions The government has so far renewed a state of emergency four times, which has allowed it to impose some of the world’s tightest restrictions on the country’s nearly 47 million people.
But in recent weeks, strict home-confinement orders and bans on public activity have been gradually relaxed.
Since May 11, half of Spain’s population has experienced an easing of the restrictions, with cafe terraces reopening and people allowed to meet in groups of up to 10 people – although these measures have not yet been rolled out in the worst-hit areas such as the Madrid region and Barcelona.
On Saturday, far-right protests erupted in Madrid as thousands of people, many honking car horns, rallied against the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown measures
No other country has so far announced an observance on the scale of Spain’s 10-day mourning period, an event unprecedented since the country reinstated democratic rule in 1978.
Opposition parties had criticised Sanchez’s left-wing coalition government for not paying tribute to the victims of the pandemic as Spain’s high death toll became a point of political debate.
“They should have declared the mourning days ago,” Madrid resident Conchita Hernandez, 77, told The Associated Press news agency. Her husband, Agustin Alvarez, 77, compared the nearly 9,000 virus-related deaths in Madrid to the casualties during times of war.
“The mourning would have made more sense when we were all homebound, but I still think it makes a lot of sense,” Alvarez said.
China, where the virus emerged in late 2019 and has now officially killed 4,638 people, held a national day of mourning on April 4, while Italy, which has so far counted almost 32,900 deaths, mourned its victims on March 31.
And this week, the United States lowered its flags to half-mast for three days to remember its dead, who now number more than 98,900, the heaviest toll in the world.
What is certain is that there will be no relegation in these divisions, which could end up seeing 100 teams spread across five groups in Segunda B.
The project for the creation of a new division by the name of Segunda Pro will be postponed until the 2021/22 season, in which a new category of two groups from the Segunda B will be formed.
Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales announced his decision to the presidents of the territorial federations on Wednesday, just before the decision was endorsed by the Board of Directors who will meet on Thursday morning to make the decision to end the non-professional season official.
If the health authorities allow it, the promotion playoffs for Segunda B and Tercera Division will go ahead.
Spaniards took to the streets to jog, cycle and rollerskate for the first time after 48 days of confinement on Saturday as some European nations cautiously eased virus lockdowns and Russia faced a large spike in new infections.
As governments across the globe weigh how to lift restrictions to restart economies against the risk of new infections, US authorities brought some hope by approving an experimental drug for emergency use on coronavirus patients.
The decision was the latest step in a global push to find treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the world economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The virus has killed nearly 239,000 people worldwide and caused more than 3.3 million confirmed infections since it emerged in China late last year.
With signs the pandemic in their hardest-hit nations is slowing, European countries and some parts of the US have begun to lift restrictions to try to inject life into economies crippled by weeks of closure.
From Madrid to Mallorca, Spaniards flocked to the streets as they were allowed to exercise and walk freely outside as the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest numbers of fatalities at nearly 25,000.
“After so many weeks in confinement, I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world,” said financial advisor Marcos Abeytua in Madrid’s Chueca district who got up a 7 am to enjoy some time outside. “Yesterday, I was like a child on Christmas Eve.”
Near the city’s Retiro park, many residents were out to run, sometimes in groups, as a policeman used a loudspeaker to urge them to keep out of the deserted avenue and on the pavement.
Crowds of runners mingled with cyclists and skateboarders enjoying sports in the sun in Barcelona’s seaside neighbourhood.
“This all seems a bit crazy to me. On the first day we get some freedom I don’t see any safe distancing at all,” said Christian, an Italian living in Barcelona. “I didn’t expect to see thousands of people running like this.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, however, said masks would be obligatory on public transport from Monday, and children and elderly will still face some time restrictions on when they can go outside.
Spain, Germany, Austria and Scandinavian nations are all gradually easing lockdowns as the virus cases slow though they will keep in place social distancing measures, the use of masks and testing to try to track infections.
France, which will lift parts of its lockdown on May 11, on Saturday decided to extend a health emergency by two months until late July.
After a two-month shutdown, Italians on Monday will be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives. Restaurants can open for takeout and wholesale stores can resume business.
“We must maintain social distancing, maximum hygiene levels, and masks. We’ve done our bit to the best of our ability. From Monday, it’s up to you,” emergency response official Domenico Arcuri said at a press conference.
“I implore you, do not lower your guards.”
In Russia, though, authorities reported the largest increase in coronavirus cases with the new infections rising by nearly 10,000 in a single day.
In Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, around 2 percent of the population is infected by COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus, officials said.
“The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, said on his blog earlier Saturday.
Treatment hopes – More than 3.3 million cases of infection have been officially diagnosed in 195 countries, including 1.5 million in Europe alone. That number is likely only a fraction of true cases as testing is still limited.
The United States has the most deaths with more than 65,000, followed by Italy with 28,236, the United Kingdom with 27,510, Spain with 25,100 deaths and France with 24,594 fatalities.
US President Donald Trump on Friday announced that Remdesivir, an antiviral drug initially developed to treat Ebola, was given the green light for use after a major trial found that it boosted recovery in serious COVID-19 patients.
“It’s really a very promising situation,” Trump said on Friday at the White House.
The drug incorporates itself into the virus’s genome, short-circuiting its replication process.
Its approval came as the US leaders struggled with growing pressure from citizens wearying of stay-at-home orders.
Trump is keen for a turnaround as the world’s largest economy reels with tens of millions left jobless.
Texas became the largest US state yet to ease curbs, while anti-lockdown demonstrations were held in several states — including California, where officials had re-closed beaches beginning Friday to avoid a repeat of last weekend when crowds flocked to the shoreline.
In Huntington Beach, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, several thousand people rallied to denounce the shutdown order.
“Open California!” chanted protesters near the closed beaches, carrying signs that read “All jobs are essential” or “Freedom is essential”.
Hong Kong shops opening – In Asia, India announced that the lockdown on its 1.3 billion people — the worlds biggest — would continue for two more weeks from May 4.
In Singapore, the government said Saturday that pet food stores and hair salons will be allowed to reopen on May 12.
Most of the city-state’s infections have been detected at dormitories housing migrant workers, and their confinement was extended to June 1.
Hong Kong recorded zero confirmed case of coronavirus on Saturday, for the sixth day within a week.
The city’s social distancing regulations including limits on the gathering of more than four people are due to expire on May 7. Authorities have not decided whether to extend them.
The city’s chief executive has said that civil servants will return to work in the office starting from May 4.
During the long weekend with public holidays to celebrate Buddha’s birthday and Labour Day, residents flocked to country parks and the city’s outlying islands to get some fresh air.
Shops and restaurants started to resume business in normal opening hours with more consumers going out to streets and shopping malls.
May Day on Friday carried extra significance this year because of the staggering number of people put out of work by the pandemic with the global economy in a tailspin.
Spainish prime minister Pedro Sanchez has announced that professional athletes will be able to return to training as of Monday, May 4, in what is known as Phase 0 of the government’s plan for the country to return to normal.
Albeit on an individual basis, Sanchez’s comments provide optimism that Spanish football could soon resume.
“Professional athletes will be able to train individually starting from May 4,” Sanchez stated.
“Therefore, the opening of individual training sessions for professional and federation athletes and the basic training for [teams of] professional leagues is authorised within Phase 0.
“In the sports industry, the opening of high-performance centres with reinforced hygiene and protection measures and, if possible, shifts, is being contemplated, while medium level training sessions in professional leagues will also be allowed within Phase 1,” he added.
Within Phase 2, cultural events of no more than 50 people can be held in closed places at a third of their capacity
Outdoor gatherings will be possible for up to 400 people, as long as they are seated.
Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll dropped to 288 on Sunday, the lowest since March 20, as the country eased its lockdown to allow children outside for the first time in six weeks.
The health ministry said the figure dropped from 378 on Saturday and brought Spain’s total toll to 23,190, the third-highest number of deaths after the United States and Italy.
The news came as the country took the first steps to ease one of the world’s toughest lockdowns.
Spain issued a stringent stay-at-home order on March 14, confining the country’s nearly 47 million population to their homes in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic.
Unlike other countries in Europe and the rest of the world, Spain’s children have not been able to go out, with only adults allowed to leave the house to buy food, medicine, briefly walk the dog or because of a medical emergency.
All Spaniards will be allowed out for exercise and to take walks from next weekend, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday.
The government will on Tuesday unveil its broader lockdown exit plan that will likely be put into action in the second half of May, he added.
The ministry of health said that 98,731 people have now recovered from the deadly virus.
Health officials have said Spain’s COVID-19 epidemic peaked on April 2, when it recorded 950 deaths over 24 hours.
>>> COVID-19: Austria to re-open schools come Mid May <<<
Austria said Friday it would start to re-open classes at schools from May 4 as it continues a gradual loosening of coronavirus lockdown measures.
Some 100,000 final-year students will go back to school on May 4, Education Minister Heinz Fassmann told a press conference.
Schools for six- to 14-year-olds will re-open May 15, while classes for other students aged 15 and over will follow from May 29, provided infections don’t surge again, Fassmann said.
He added classes would be split into two groups, with teachers taking only one group on a given day to ensure that numbers are kept to around 11 students per classroom so a safe distance can be kept between them.
The group not being taught at any one time will be able to work on assignments in other rooms or at home.
Students will also have to wear masks inside schools except for when they are seated at their desks inside classrooms.
Music and gym lessons will however not resume and the curriculum will focus on core subjects.
Austria this month began easing the lockdown measures imposed in March and which have so far succeeded in slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Small shops and gardening and hardware stores started to re-open in mid-April. Larger shops will follow next week. Restaurants are expected to re-open from mid-May.
The country of almost nine million people has been spared the brunt of the crisis so far with some 15,000 reported infections and 530 deaths.
>>> COVID-19: Spain records 367 fresh deaths – lowest death rate in a Month <<<
Spain saw 367 people die of novel coronavirus over the past 24 hours for the lowest daily number of deaths in four weeks, government said on Friday.
The latest figures are the lowest daily toll since March 22 when 394 deaths were reported. That brought the total fatalities from the pandemic in the country to 22,524, the third-highest number of virus deaths in the world after the United States and Italy.
>>> We are yet to near the peak – NCDC explains COVID-19 projections in Nigeria <<<
Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu believes Nigeria has not gotten to its peak yet, amid the increasing number of confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) stated this on Friday.
He said, “From our projection, we are not near the peak yet; we still have a number of weeks to go.”
“But we are trying to stretch out these weeks even further so we can push the peak a bit further out but make sure that the peak is not as steep as it would otherwise have been if no measures were put in place,” Ihekweazu added.
He explained the measures being put in place by the NCDC to ensure the nation’s health system does not get overwhelmed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Coping With Rising Figure
The NCDC chief stated that the agency would not relent in its effort to curb the spread of the disease in the country, despite being over-stretched.
Noting that Nigeria now has a total of 981 infections, he decried the limiting factors making the transmission of coronavirus possible, saying they were completely outside the control of the health sector.
“Of course, we are over-stretched … but we will not stop because we really don’t have an option NCDC boss admitted.
He added, “At the moment and from what we know, we will not be able to radically stop in a day or two, or even a few weeks but what we are trying to do is really to stretch out that curve so that the health system can cope with the number of cases coming in.”
Ihekweazu also explained the various roles of the NCDC in the fight against COVID-19 in various states.
According to him, the agency is primarily established to serve the states and they are trying to do that as best as they can.
The NCDC boss revealed that the agency was working with the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), and other government health parastatals.
He noted that through these combined resources, a team of medical experts was sent to the various states to support other health workers in the frontline.
The Extra Measures
“The challenge is that we are facing an unprecedented situation,” said Ihekweazu, adding, “At the moment, as we speak, we have teams in 26 states of the country.
“In states like Lagos, we have over 50 people supporting the response in Lagos State. Our role is to support the states; we are doing the best we can, but the leadership always has to come from the state.”
The NCDC boss stressed that officials deployed from the agencies to any state were never at the front but stay at the back to support the leadership of the state.
He explained that the states were given the responsibility they deserve while the NCDC officials were providing expertise, resources, and reagents among other means of support.
On further measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, Ihekweazu stated that the agency was consulting with the Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF) and other stakeholders.
He said, “Transmission is actually picking up in certain states and what we are trying to do, working with the Governors’ Forum and across the sector, is seeing what extra measures we can put in place over the next few days or which we can propose to the leadership of the country to put in place over the next few days that will mitigate the spread of this infection.”