LONDON • The British government is mulling over tougher restrictions in England to tackle a swiftly accelerating second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, possibly outlawing more inter-household socialising, a junior health minister said yesterday.
"We don't want to bring on new restrictions but, of course, we keep a constant eye on what is going on with the Covid rate," Junior Health Minister Helen Whately told Sky News.
The Times newspaper said ministers were preparing to enforce a total social lockdown across much of northern England and potentially London. The paper said all pubs, restaurants and bars would be ordered to shut for two weeks.
Asked about The Times report, Mrs Whately said the country was at a really serious point and so Covid-19 had to be brought under control. She did not give a direct answer on the report that pubs would be closed.
"This is the moment when we have an opportunity - we have a choice for the country - to get this back under control. We have to break these chains of transmission," Mrs Whately said.
In Spain, protesters hit the streets of Madrid against coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, the day before a partial lockdown was extended to more areas of the capital region to curb a surge in coronavirus cases.
The city with its surrounding region is at the epicentre of a second wave of infections sweeping Spain. Covid-19 has already claimed more than 31,000 lives nationwide, the highest infection rate in the European Union.
Since Sept 21, some 850,000 people in 37 mainly densely populated low-income districts in southern Madrid have been confined to their neighbourhoods, unable to leave except for work, school or medical reasons - although they are able to move freely within their own areas. Parks in the affected neighbourhoods are closed and restaurants and other businesses must shut at 10pm.
The regional government of Madrid, which is responsible for health, extended the restrictions from yesterday to eight more districts, home to another 167,000 people. Its latest move still falls short of a recommendation from Spain's government that the partial lockdown should cover the entire city.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Madrid regional Parliament in southern district Vallecas, one of the neighbourhoods under partial lockdown since last week, to protest against the restrictions. Many complained of discrimination by the authorities.
"It's not lockdown, it's segregation!" the crowd chanted. One of the signs on display stated: "They don't confine the rich."
Similar smaller demonstrations were held in other parts of the city.
"It makes no sense that you can go to work in a wealthier area but can't go have a drink," Mr Marcos Ruiz Guijarro, 27, said. "Infections are rising everywhere. The rules should be the same for everyone."
Many demonstrators complained that the regional government had failed to improve public healthcare or do anything to reduce overcrowding in the transport system, where they said the virus could easily spread. The regional government said it has targeted areas where the contagion rate is above 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.
Over the past week, Spain has registered the highest number of new cases within the EU, with a rate of nearly 300 per 100,000 inhabitants - but in the Madrid region, the figure is more than 700 per 100,000.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE