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Coronavirus: Sweden introduces new restrictions as Europe fights to contain latest wave

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A couple hug and laugh as they have lunch in a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, April 4, 2020
A couple hug and laugh as they have lunch in a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, April 4, 2020   -   Copyright  AP photos
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Sweden has joined many of its European neighbours and introduced new COVID-19 restrictions as cases surged on the continent.

New measures took effect on Tuesday in the Scandinavian nation, which opted not to impose a national lockdown in the spring when other EU countries did.

Austria and Greece also introduced new measures yesterday, with Germany imposing a partial shutdown on Monday and tighter rules have also been set in motion in Italy, France, Kosovo and Croatia.

England will introduce a near-total lockdown from Thursday, although schools and universities will remain open.

Nations reintroduced restrictions to get ahead of a virus that has caused more than 1.2 million deaths around the globe, over 270,000 of them in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins University and is straining health care systems.

Sweden

The country of 10 million people now has 134,532 reported cases and nearly 6,000 deaths.

"We are going in the wrong direction. The situation is very serious," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. "Now, every citizen needs to take responsibility. We know how dangerous this is."

The new measures kicking in on Tuesday include limits on capacity in restaurants and cafés with a maximum of eight people at any table.

The country also announced local restrictions in three more counties that include Sweden's largest cities.

UK

England is due to start a new four-week lockdown at midnight on Wednesday/Thursday, with citizens told to stay at home except for a number of exceptions, including to care for the vulnerable or do groceries. Schools will, however, remain open.

Wales and Northern Ireland are already in the middle of "firebreak" lockdowns and Scotland has introduced a five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday that he was confronted with data that projects "the NHS could collapse" before choosing to reinstate the lockdown.

"I am not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people," he said

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has asked the World Health Organisation (WHO) to send an emergency medical team to help the country’s hospitals, which are struggle to cope under the strain of the second wave.

Thousands of health care professionals in the country are infected and therefore not able to work, according to the AP.

A spokesperson from the WHO’s regional office for Europe said Tuesday that the Czech government had "accepted the WHO offer to activate the Emergency Medical Team system to bring teams of health professionals to support the national efforts”.

The country has been facing a record surge in new cases since late August but the day-to-day increase has slightly fallen since hitting a record of 15,664 a week ago. It reached 12,088 on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic had 362,985 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic with almost 170,000 registered in the last two weeks. Nearly one-third of the country’s 3,913 deaths took place in the last seven days.

Belgium

Belgium, proportionally still the worst-hit nation in Europe when it comes to coronavirus cases, said on Wednesday there are increasing signs that a turning point in the crisis was drawing close.

Yves Van Laethem, COVID-19 crisis centre spokesman, said that for the first time in a month, statistics on new infections on a weekly basis were going down.

He added that if the slowdown continued, Belgium will be able to remain below the maximum capacity at hospitals in the coming weeks.

The announcement came in the wake of increased measures over the past few weeks with bar and restaurant closures capped by a partial lockdown that began Monday, putting further restrictions on gatherings and forcing non-essential shops to shut.

Italy

Italy recorded its highest daily COVID-19 death toll in nearly six months on Tuesday as Hungary and the Netherlands tightened restrictions to further in an effort to combat the virus.

According to figures from the Italian health ministry, 353 people died from COVID-19 in the country in the previous 24 hours — the highest daily increase since May 6.

More than 39,400 people have now lost their lives in the pandemic in the southern European country, while the number of infections recorded grew by 28,244 to nearly 760,000.

Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the government said the partial lockdown imposed three weeks ago is starting to pay off with the number of infections going down by 5 per cent week on week to just over 64,000 recorded over the past seven days.

The fall came three weeks after the government put the nation of 17 million on partial lockdown, including closing bars and restaurants, halting amateur sports for adults and urging people to work from home.

But Dutch authorities remain concerned the number of COVID-19 patients is putting an unbearable strain on hospitals, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced further restrictions Tuesday night.

He warned that some regions could be placed under curfews if infection rates do not drop, and warned residents of the Netherlands not to travel abroad until mid-January.