Europeans tighten virus curbs with France 'critical'

Paris, France: France, Belgium, and Poland on Saturday tightened curbs as coronavirus cases surged in Europe while the Philippines readied for a giant lockdown and Chile confined over 80 percent of its population.

France admitted the situation is "critical" and added three more departments to the 16 already under tight restrictions.

Twenty million people in France, including the greater Paris region, are classed as living in high-infection zones.

They are not allowed to travel further than 10 kilometers (six miles) from home without an essential reason.

Daily cases in France have nearly doubled since the start of the month and there have been more than 200,000 new cases every week.

But that did not stop a crowd from turning out for a protest concert outside Saturday evening in central Paris.

Numbers in France's intensive care wards are close to record highs in November and still climbing.

In stark contrast, across the Channel people are relishing the prospect of a pint and a haircut as Prime Minister Boris Johnson vows to stick to his plan to unwind anti-Covid measures.

'Jab by jab'

Johnson said his government's successful mass vaccination drive and pro-business policies would hasten economic recovery, "jab by jab, job by job".

"In just a few days' time, I'm finally going to be able to go to the barbers," the mop-haired PM added.

Wales became the first UK nation to lift travel restrictions on Saturday.

From Monday, England's stay-at-home order will be relaxed allowing groups of up to six people to meet outside.

The government plans to allow outdoors drinking in pub gardens, and non-essential retail such as hairdressers, from April 12.

Meanwhile, on the continent, Belgium closed all businesses involving non-medical physical contact from Saturday.

Shops offering "non-essential" services can only receive clients with appointments.

Poland shuttered creches, playgrounds, furniture, and DIY stores, as well as beauty salons and barbershops.

Social distancing in churches in the predominantly Catholic nation has also been tightened with one person allowed in every 20 square meters (200 square feet) instead of 15 square meters earlier.

'The virus is the enemy'

The Philippines announced Saturday that more than 24 million people in and around Manila will go into lockdown next week.

"The virus is the enemy, not the government," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

From Monday, people will have to work from home unless they are considered essential workers, and public transport will be halted.

Mass gatherings will be banned, night-time curfews will be enforced and non-essential businesses shut.

Chile also started a new and strict lockdown for more than 80 percent of its population, with shopping trips for even basic products banned during weekends.

Vaccination disparity

The pandemic has killed over 2.7 million people since December 2019, according to an AFP tally on Saturday.

Health officials have rolled out more than 510 million coronavirus vaccine doses around the world, but with big gaps between countries.

The World Health Organization on Friday appealed to richer nations to donate vaccines to help poorer ones start inoculations.

The deployment of vaccines has been glaringly unequal, with the United States accounting for more than a quarter of the global total and poorer nations lagging far behind wealthier ones.

Kenya became the latest African country to order a partial lockdown on Friday, shutting schools and bars in and around the capital Nairobi.

"I am convinced that the cost of not acting now would be far greater," said President Uhuru Kenyatta.

In India, too, a sharp rise in infections will see new measures with worst-hit state Maharashtra, including its mega-city Mumbai, put under night curfew from Sunday.

And for war-torn Yemen, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Saturday sounded the alarm with numbers of critical Covid-19 patients rising dramatically.

"Medecins Sans Frontieres is seeing a dramatic influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Aden, Yemen, and many other parts of the country," MSF said on Twitter.

"We are urging all Covid-19 emergency response," said MSF country head of mission Raphael Veicht.

Misinformation has proved a major headache during the pandemic, but Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro failed to heed the warnings.

Facebook said Saturday it was "freezing" his page for a month after repeated violations of the platform's rules.

The socialist leader had in a video promoted the use of the drug Carvativir -- saying a few drops under the tongue would provide a "miracle" cure with no side effects -- in the latest of a series of remedies he has advocated without medical evidence.

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