Grim trends in Europe as Chinese enjoy post-virus Golden Week

Madrid (AFP) –


Europe was facing up Thursday to ever-worsening pandemic indicators, notably in Spain, Britain and France, as China revelled in its first post-coronavirus Golden Week holiday, with hundreds of millions on the move around the country.

By 1100 GMT Thursday the pandemic had killed at least 1,018,634 people around the world and infected over 34 million, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.

Spain, fighting a second wave of the virus, extended drastic restrictions across the capital, despite fierce opposition from Madrid's regional authorities, and most other regions have agreed to tighten curbs in areas of rapid contagion.

Madrid is struggling with a rate of 780 cases per 100,000 people, compared with just 300 per 100,000 in the rest of Spain -- which in itself is the highest in the European Union.

Spain is currently fighting a second wave of the virus, which has now killed more than 31,000 people and infected close to 760,000 in what is the highest infection rate within the European Union.

In Britain, chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance told reporters "things are definitely heading in the wrong direction" as new restrictions on social gatherings have failed to bring down case numbers and hospital admissions.

The government on Thursday extended lockdowns to Liverpool and several other towns in northern England, effectively putting more than a quarter of the country under tighter coronavirus restrictions.

France, especially Paris, was bracing for possible new or renewed restrictions after the capital saw new cases exceed 250 per 100,000 people and Covid-19 patients once again making up more than 30 percent of the intake at intensive care units, at 32.1 percent.

And the Slovak and Czech governments both decided to impose states of emergency, starting Thursday and next Monday respectively, to allow them to take quick decisions in the face of considerable upticks in infections and deaths.

Meanwhile Italian football suffered a blow Thursday with the postponement of Genoa's weekend match against Torino because team and staff members at the Ligurian club tested positive for the coronavirus.

The match is the first in Serie A to be postponed due to the pandemic since the championship started on September 19.

- China 'unwinding' -

On the other side of the planet in China, where the outbreak began late last year, the Golden Week holiday marking the 1949 founding of the People's Republic has taken on added significance this year.

"People are travelling with a vengeance!" said Huo Binxing, a banker from Beijing who was heading to Lhasa in Tibet. "It's our first chance to unwind after such a stressful period."

Also spreading their wings were travellers to South Africa, where a first batch of regional and international flights landed Thursday, as borders reopened after a more than six-month shutdown.

While it reopened its borders to all African countries from Thursday, South Africa is barring tourists from around 50 nations with high infection rates, including Britain, France, India, Russia and the US.

The skies were far less bright in the United States, where Thursday marked the end of a period during which airlines promised to refrain from laying off staff in exchange for billions in aid from Congress.

American and United airlines were the first to announce cuts, saying they would begin furloughing 19,000 and 13,000 workers respectively as US officials have failed to reach a deal on fresh aid.

A package of loans totaling up to $25 billion to seven US carriers announced Tuesday night provides funds for airlines to ride out a prolonged downturn amid the coronavirus, but it will not affect plans for furloughs, airline sources said.

Also in the United States, with less than five weeks to go before an exceptionally fractious presidential election, lawmakers are negotiating a desperately needed trillion-dollar-plus relief package for millions of families suffering during the pandemic.

- 'Superhero's cape' -

The pandemic has inspired creativity around the globe, not least in Panama, the hardest-hit country in Central America.

In an idea for a charity auction, 22 Panamanian artists were asked to transform frontline health workers' lab coats into artwork to raise money for anti-virus equipment.

Genaro Rodriguez was so moved by the project that he likened the experience to "painting a superhero's cape."

Panama has recorded more than 111,000 cases and over 2,300 deaths.