Masks becoming mandatory amid Europe’s virus uptick

Updated 25 Jul 2020

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People in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds by police if they refuse to wear a mask. — AFP/File
People in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds by police if they refuse to wear a mask. — AFP/File

ROME: New rules on wearing masks in England came into effect on Friday, with people entering shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings, while Romania reported a record for daily infections and new cases nearly doubled in France.

People in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds ($127) by police if they refuse. The British government had given mixed signals for weeks before deciding on the policy. Places like restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are exempt.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said officers would be available as a last resort but added that he hopes the public will continue to do the right thing” to protect other citizens.

In Belgium, health authorities said a three-year old girl has died after testing positive for Covid-19 as new infections surged 89pc from the previous week.

Belgian authorities have bolstered up restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, including making masks mandatory in crowded outdoor public spaces. Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic, with 64,847 cases and 9,812 deaths registered so far.

Overall, Europe has seen over 201,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll from the coronavirus worldwide is much higher, due to limited testing and other issues.

Romania set an all-time high for daily new infections on Friday and authorities blamed the surge on a failure to wear masks properly.

Many in Romania haven’t been wearing masks indoors or on public transport. A relaxing of measures also stripped authorities of the ability to quarantine or isolate the new cases or keep Covid-19 patients in hospitals.

France, too, is seeing case numbers rising, with more than 1,000 new infections reported Thursday as people let their guard down heading into the country’s summer break.

Health authorities say cases on the French mainland have surged 66pc in the past three weeks and 26pc in the last week alone. Concerns about rising cases had already prompted the government to make mask-wearing mandatory in all indoor public spaces this week.

In Italy, new infections reported on Thursday jumped to over 300, the first time they surpassed that number since mid-June. Most new cases came from northern Italy, where the outbreak in Europe began, but southern regions have lately been seeing clusters of infections.

Many recent cases have been traced to people returning from abroad, most of them foreign workers. Other clusters were among migrants rescued at sea and vacationers.

Last week, the mayor of the tourist-mecca island of Capri ordered people to wear masks in the streets. Capri’s main square, with its trendy cafes and narrow streets, had been jammed with holiday-goers, many not wearing masks.

Three young Romans who returned home after a holiday tested positive, Italian media said Friday.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Friday ordered everyone entering Italy who had been in either Romania or Bulgaria during the last 14 days to self-quarantine. A few weeks ago, an apartment complex where Bulgarian farm workers live in a town near Naples was sealed off after a local outbreak was traced to some of those workers.

In Italy, masks must be worn in shops, banks, on public transport and outdoors where it’s impossible to keep a safe distance apart.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2020