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Spain locks down 200,000 as virus mars US Independence Day

By AFP - Jul 04,2020 - Last updated at Jul 04,2020

Gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned in the Spanish town of Lerida (AFP photo)

BARCELONA — Spain put 200,000 people back in lockdown on Saturday despite a stuttering European reopening as Americans scaled back July 4 celebrations for a downbeat Independence Day.

In a welcome sign that some parts of the old way of life were returning, England reopened its pubs with drinkers trooping back to their local hostelries for the first time since late March.

The lockdown announcement from Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, however, came as Europeans began converging on their favourite holiday spots thanks to an easing of border restrictions put in place to stop the spread.

Regional officials said a "sharp rise" in infections around the town of Lerida some 150 kilometres west of Barcelona had forced them to ban gatherings of more than 10 people and reimpose other restrictions.

Across the United States, Independence Day celebrations will have an eerie feel — Main Street parades have been cancelled, boisterous backyard barbecues scaled down and family reunions put off.

Beaches that would normally be packed on the July 4 weekend are shut on both coasts, as California and Florida suffer alarming surges in cases.

The virus, which has touched almost every country since emerging in China late last year, is making an uneven retreat after forcing billions of people to spend weeks confined to their homes.


‘I’m no killjoy’ 


Nations are now rethinking how their cities can function and economies survive in the face of an illness that has infected at least 11 million and killed 526,000 globally.

In England, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers were finally allowed to reopen.

“Gorgeous”, sighed Andrew Slawinski ss he took his first sip at a pub in London. “This is like winning the [Premier] League.”

Britain’s Prince William got into the spirit of things by having his picture taken sipping a glass of cider and dutifully using hand sanitiser from a wall-mounted dispenser.

And finance minister Rishi Sunak urged Britons to “eat out to help out” — a message that did not appear to sit well with Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“I’m no killjoy,” said Hancock. “But the virus can still kill.”


Australia high-rise shut 


Governments across the world are trying to carefully calibrate their reopenings — rousing their economies without triggering outbreaks and more lockdowns.

Catalonia’s new lockdown came as the modernist Sagrada Familia basilica reopened in Barcelona, just a short distance away.

The dangers of reopening are being felt across the world.

Thousands of residents in high-rise apartments in Melbourne went into lockdown for at least five days as Australia recorded its biggest daily increase of infections in months.

“There are many, many vulnerable people who live in these towers,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The US also broke a record for new cases for a third day running on Friday as the world’s largest economy prepared to celebrate its July 4 holiday under a shadow.

The disease has claimed nearly 130,000 US lives already and a new wave of cases that followed an easing of some measures “puts the entire country at risk”, according to infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

Although local officials have been warning against taking to the streets, President Donald Trump said he would take part in a “Salute to America” complete with military music and flyovers in Washington.

Trump was at Mount Rushmore for a fireworks celebration with thousands of attendees in close quarters, most without masks.

“INCREDIBLE SIGHT”, the president tweeted next to a clip of the crowds watching him and his wife Melania on stage at the South Dakota event.

US beaches close 


At least 14 US states are reportedly seeing their weekly averages hit record highs heading into the holiday weekend.

States such as Florida are recording more cases daily — around 10,000 — more than European countries such as Italy at their peaks of the crisis.

Miami’s usually-crowded South Pointe Beach was closed on Friday, save for patrolling police and a wandering cat.

Beaches in Los Angeles will also be closed over the weekend and Major League Baseball cancelled its 2020 All-Star Game for the first time since World War II.

Latin American cases soar 


Cases have been skyrocketing across Latin America as well.

Brazil now has 1.5 million confirmed infections and 63,000 deaths while the caseloads in Peru and Chile have also exceeded those in any part of Europe except for Russia.

Yet Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro authorised bars and restaurants to reopen at 50 per cent capacity in a bid to draw in tourists to Copacabana beach.

Cases also surpassed 200,000 in Saudi Arabia as the virus continued to spread through the Middle East.

Countries across Africa meanwhile forged ahead with plans to reopen despite steadily rising cases.


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