Clashes in Spain as anger at virus curbs rises
Protesters in several Spanish cities clashed with security forces for a second night running, police said Sunday, as exasperation and anger over coronavirus restrictions grow worldwide.
The unrest in Spain came as more European nations started locking down to try and stem a worrying spike in infections on the continent which has registered more than 278,000 deaths since the virus first emerged in China at the end of 2019.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the latest leader to impose a new shutdown in England that starts Thursday for at least a month, following in the steps of Austria, France and Ireland.
“This city will go bust, there will be nothing left of it,” said Roger Stenson, a 73-year-old pensioner in the northern city of Nottingham, echoing widespread concern over the long-lasting impact of another shutdown on people’s livelihoods.
“I fear for the young, like my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they’re going to suffer.”
Other countries like Germany and Greece have implemented slightly less restrictive infection-control curbs that nevertheless still involve the closure of bars, restaurants and cultural establishments in what has also caused anguish and resentment.
Barricades and stones
In Spain, anger spilled onto the streets in sometimes violent fashion overnight Saturday, with looting and vandalism breaking out in some cities on the fringe of protests.
The country has imposed a nationwide nighttime curfew and almost all of Spain’s regions have imposed regional border closures to prevent long-distance travel.
The biggest disturbances were in Madrid where scores of demonstrators chanting “freedom!” torched rubbish bins and set up makeshift barricades on the city’s main thoroughfare, the Gran Via, images on social media showed.
When police moved in to clear the gathering, they were pelted with stones and flares.
Other cities in the north also experienced unrest, as did Malaga in the south and Barcelona in the northeast.
Police said they arrested 32 people in total.
Italy was also the scene of protests last week.
But the government there is still expected to announce new restrictions on Monday, according to news reports.
These are expected to include banning travel between regions, closing shopping centres at the weekend, limiting commercial activity and imposing an earlier nighttime curfew.
Restrictions also led to unrest in Argentina, where riots took place in several jails in Buenos Aires province on Saturday, as prisoners demanded the resumption of visits in the pandemic.
The health situation is also deteriorating in the United States, which is gearing up for a major election showdown between President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Joe Biden on Tuesday.
Already the worst-affected country with 230,556 deaths, it also registered 776 new fatalities on Saturday, the largest number in the world, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
Top government scientist Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post in a interview published on Saturday that the US is “in for a whole lot of hurt.”
“All the stars are aligned in the wrong place,” he added.
The widely-popular Halloween celebration was a muted affair this year, particularly in Salem, Massachusetts.
The coastal city that infamously held witch trials in the 17th century is a draw for chill-seekers, and while grim reapers, mad scientists and tarot readers still paraded the streets on Saturday, authorities decided to shut down the city at 8 pm to avoid crowds.
“We are discouraging people from coming into Salem on Halloween night, which is so hard for us to do,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office.
“We can’t accommodate the crowds and shoulder-to-shoulder crowding that we usually see on a typical Halloween when we’ll have over 50,000 thousand people in the streets.”
In Germany, the sadness was palpable at the renown Bavarian State Opera House in Munich as it prepared to close.
It is “a slap”, said baritone Michael Nagy, unable to hide his tears.
Director Nikolaus Bachler said he did not understand why public transport and shops were able to keep going while the opera had to close.
“We have a disciplined public. It is possible to master the risks,” said Bachler, whose disappointment has been shared by other colleagues in the entertainment sector.
Displaced Syrians at risk
The virus has killed at least 1,196,109 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged last December, infecting more than 46 million.
And while hospitals in European countries have sounded the alarm about their ability to treat a rapidly rising number of patients, the situation is even worse in other, poorer parts of the world.
In war-torn northwest Syria, where almost 1.5 million people live in overcrowded camps or shelters, often with poor access to running water, fears are running high.
“They tell us, ‘Don’t go out. Don’t cause overcrowding’. But we live in tents barely half a metre apart,” said Mohammad al-Omar, a father of four, in an informal settlement in Idlib, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.
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