Borders tighten around world as coronavirus curfew fury spills over

by AFP bureaus

WASHINGTON – Border restrictions were being tightened around the world Monday in the face of an unrelenting coronavirus threat, after a weekend in which anger at social distancing rules bubbled over into fiery clashes in the Netherlands.

The United States was set to join France, Israel and Sweden in pulling up the drawbridge to certain arrivals, with special concern about new strains of the pathogen that originated in Britain and South Africa.

“It’s up to us to show that we are civic-minded,” Spaniard Claudio Barraza told AFP upon arrival at Paris’s main international airport, after new rules on tests for EU arrivals came into force.

The stipulations came as Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became the latest public figure to test positive for the disease, and New Zealand reported its first community case for more than two months.

In Washington, President Joe Biden will on Monday reimpose a ban on most non-US citizens who have been in Britain, Brazil, Ireland and much of Europe, as well as adding South Africa to the list, a senior White House official said.

Biden last week tightened mask-wearing rules and ordered quarantine for people flying into the country, which on Sunday topped 25 million cases.

Since it emerged in late 2019, Covid-19 has killed more than 2.1 million people, with almost 99 million cases registered, according to an AFP tally from official figures.

On Sunday, France started demanding a negative PCR test for arrivals by sea and air from European Union neighbors.

Sweden said it would prohibit entry from neighbouring Norway for three weeks, after cases of the more infectious British strain were detected in Oslo.

And in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was “closing the skies hermetically, except for rare exceptions” to both arrivals and departures for a week.

Fury in the Netherlands

But government action to curtail the virus’ spread still faces stiff opposition from some citizens.

Protests against a coronavirus curfew in the Netherlands degenerated into clashes with police and looting in cities across the country Sunday, a day after a Covid-19 testing centre was set on fire in the northern village of Urk.

Police used water cannon and dogs in Amsterdam, public television NOS reported, after hundreds gathered to protest the 9 pm-4:30 am curfew, set to last until February 10.

At least 30 people were arrested in Eindhoven, where mayor John Jorritsma told reporters that if the country continued “down this path, then I think we are heading for civil war”.

A reminder of the vigilance required to keep infections down came from New Zealand, where officials confirmed the first case of Covid-19 in the community for more than two months — in a 56-year-old woman who recently returned from Europe.

And in Thailand, the country’s largest seafood market, forced to shut after a coronavirus outbreak late last year, got a deep clean on Monday as authorities mulled when to reopen it.

The December outbreak at the Samut Sakhon Shrimp Centre — about 40 minutes southwest of Bangkok — sparked a second wave of almost 10,000 infections across Thailand, and workers who lost their livelihoods said the closure had been tough.

“I have to rely on food donations, whether it’s vegetables, rice, instant noodles,” Myaw Nha, a 40-year-old migrant worker from Myanmar, told AFP.

Vaccination challenges

Scientists say the only way out of the pandemic is large-scale vaccinations, but the roll-out has stuttered in many places.

Egypt began its programme, with a doctor and a nurse getting the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said Cairo had inked deals for vaccine shipments from British, Chinese and Russian firms, for a total of around 100 million doses — enough for about half of Egypt’s population.

Australia’s medical regulator formally approved the Pfizer vaccine, with the first doses expected to be administered in late February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday.

On the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic, anti-poverty group Oxfam said the emergency was aggravating inequality.

“The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover,” the group said.