COVID-19: Surge in new coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe prompts new restrictions
Countries in Eastern Europe are facing rising waves of coronavirus infections, leading to riots in Serbia, mandatory face masks in Croatia and travel bans or quarantines imposed by Hungary.
The new restrictions come as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that daily global infections hit over 228,000 last week, with the US confirming over 66,600 new cases on Friday, another record, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Hungarian authorities said on Sunday that they have sorted countries into three categories — red, yellow and green — based on their rates of new coronavirus infections, and will impose restrictions, including entry bans and mandatory quarantines, depending on which country people are arriving from.
“We see worrisome signs about an increase in the number of cases in the neighboring countries, Europe and the whole world,” said Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff. “Now, we have to protect our own security and prevent the virus from being brought in from abroad."
Foreigners from countries in the red category — including Albania, Ukraine, Belarus and practically all of Asia, Africa and South and Central America — are banned from entering, while Hungarian citizens arriving from those locations will have to quarantine for two weeks or until they test negative twice, 48 hours apart.
Both Hungarians and foreigners arriving from countries in the yellow category — which includes, Britain, Russia, Serbia, Japan, China, the United States, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Sweden — will have to quarantine for two weeks, but will be allowed out if they test negative for the virus.
Gulyas said the new rules take effect on Wednesday and will be reviewed at least once a week.
Serbia reported 287 new infections on Sunday, although there have been increasing doubts about the accuracy of the figures. Officially, the country has over 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March. Health authorities are warning that Serbian hospitals are almost full due to the latest surge. Sunday’s report of 11 coronavirus deaths was the country's second-highest daily death toll.
Serbian police clashed with anti-government protesters for five nights this week, demonstrations that forced the Serbian president to withdraw plans to reintroduce a coronavirus lockdown. Many of the increasing infections have been blamed on crowded soccer matches, tennis events and nightclubs.
Romania announced a record-high 698 new infections on Saturday, while 456 new cases were reported on Sunday.
In Bulgaria, authorities reintroduced restrictions lifted a few weeks ago because of a new surge in cases. Indoor facilities at nightclubs and discos were ordered to close on Friday, with outdoor locations limited to 50 per cent of capacity. Wedding and baptisms have been limited to 30 people, while sporting events can be held only without spectators.
After confirming a record 330 new cases on Friday, Bulgaria reported 208 cases, both on Saturday and Sunday. So far, the country has registered 3,597 cases and 267 deaths.
Albania also has seen a significant increase in infections since mid-May, when it eased lockdown measures. The Balkan nation reported 93 new cases, over twice as many as the highest daily figures in March and April, and the health ministry called the situation at the main infectious disease hospital “grave.”
“Don’t lower vigilance and respect hygiene rules,” Albanian health authorities urged, adding that restaurants should “rigorously clean and disinfect.”
Croatia, whose island-dotted Adriatic Sea coast is a major tourist destination, is making wearing masks mandatory in stores beginning Monday. Restaurant staff, but not patrons, will also have to wear face coverings.
The pandemic was also affecting elections Sunday in Europe. In Poland, which was holding a presidential runoff on Sunday between conservative incumbent Andrzej Duda, and Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal, pro-European Union mayor of Warsaw, voters must wear masks and gloves, maintain social distancing and use hand sanitizer. They were instructed to use their own pens to mark ballots and ballot boxes were being disinfected regularly.
Yet, the numbers of infections in Eastern Europe are being swamped by daily coronavirus reports from the US, India, South Africa and Brazil, whose virus-denying president, Jair Bolsonaro, has tested positive.
Virus deaths are rising in the US, especially in states in the South and West, with the seven-day rolling daily average increasing from 578 two weeks ago to 664 on Friday — still well below the heights hit in April — according to analysis of data from Johns Hopkins by the Associated Press.
Daily infection records were hit in at least six states.
“It’s consistently picking up. And it’s picking up at the time you’d expect it to,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher.
Researchers expect US deaths to rise for weeks, but some think the count will not go up as dramatically as it did in the spring.
India, which has the most cases after the United States and Brazil, saw a record surge of 28,637 cases reported in the past 24 hours. Authorities also announced a week-long lockdown beginning Tuesday in the key southern technology hub of Bangalore, where the offices of top tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon are located.
South Africa has reported over 10,000 new daily cases several days in a row, including 13,497 new infections announced on Saturday night. Johannesburg’s densely populated Soweto township is one of the virus hot spots. With over 264,000 cases and 3,971 deaths, South Africa accounts for over 40 per cent of all the reported coronavirus cases in Africa.