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Coronavirus: Austria starts tough lockdown as Italy cracks down on nursing homes

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Closed shops are pictured in downtown Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.
Closed shops are pictured in downtown Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ronald Zak
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Austria has started a new tough lockdown meant to slow the surging spread of the coronavirus in the Alpine nation.

As of Tuesday, people are only allowed to leave their homes to purchase groceries, to go to jobs deemed essential, to exercise or to help people who need assistance.

All restaurants, shops, hair salons and other services have been ordered closed, and the nation's schools have been moved to remote learning programmes.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Monday ahead of the lockdown, which is to run through to December 6, that "all of social and public life will be brought down to a minimum."

Austria currently is registering more than 527 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days _ more than 10 times the rate that authorities say is sustainable. Over the last seven days, it has reported 46,946 new coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Rudi Anschober also reported on Sunday that 4,158 people are being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, 599 of whom are in intensive care units.

"This means that the number of intensive care patients with severe COVID diseases has increased by 30 compared to the reported data a week ago."

He warned that on the current trajectory, hospitals and ICUs would be saturated before this end of the month and argued that "the hard lockdown beginning on Tuesday is the only chance to reduce severe overload in intensive are units, the last chance to prevent triage in Austrian hospitals".

In France, authorities have cautiously said that the country has "passed an epidemic peak" with the number of new daily cases dropping to under 10,000 for the first time in five weeks on Monday.

Italy inspects nursing homes and ambulances

Meanwhile, in Italy, four nursing homes were closed by the authorities after inspectors checking compliance with COVID-19 regulations found grave violations.

Authorities inspected more than 230 nursing homes as part of the health ministry's anti-coronavirus controls, identifying 37 with violations and flagging 11 people to law enforcement for possible prosecution.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the lack of adequate oversight in some of Italy's care homes, particularly smaller, private ones. As in other countries, thousands of elderly died in Italy's nursing homes during the first wave of the outbreak, many without having ever been tested for the virus.

The violations flagged by the authorities included lack of protective equipment and training for health care workers, insufficient hygiene and missing anti-COVID protocols. In addition, inspectors found other underlying violations of health norms, including overcrowding, abusive treatment of the elderly, expired medicine, poor food safety and unqualified staff.

The violations reported Tuesday by the carabinieri's health care inspectors were so grave in four cases that the homes were closed outright and the guests transferred back to their families or other structures.

Authorities in Bologna have also carried out four pre-trial detention house arrests against the manager of a nursing home and three employees. They have been charged with mistreatment, failure to assist and abusive exercise of the health profession.

Last week, Italian authorities also inspected 945 ambulances and found 46 of them did not fully comply with sanitary regulations with 15 criminal and 29 administrative violations. These included a lack of suitable procedures for cleaning and sanitising the compartments of the vehicle and a lack of possession and use of PPE equipment.