Violent protests against new anti-coronavirus restrictions have escalated in Europe as more countries tightened social distancing rules over the weekend to fight surges in infections with Italy witnessing the latest public rally in the continent.
Around 200 masked far-right militants clashed with Italian riot police during a demonstration against the new curfew in Rome shortly after midnight on Sunday, throwing flares and firecrackers at officers.
Seven protesters were arrested during the rally, which came the night after hundreds of people set rubbish bins on fire and threw projectiles at police further south in Naples in another anti-curfew protest. Italy is reeling from its worst post-war recession after a two-month national lockdown prompted by one of Europe's worst outbreaks, with authorities having so far sought to avoid reimposing more drastic quarantine restrictions.
Italy reported another daily record for COVID-19 cases on Saturday as the government on Sunday announced nationwide restrictions to contain a resurgence of the pandemic. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he wants to avoid a repeat of the blanket lockdown earlier in the year but several regions have imposed overnight curfews and the central government is expected to announce more measures soon.
The Italian protests there mark the latest in a string of similar demonstrations against government restrictions in several parts of Europe including Spain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of an "exponential" rise in infections threatening health systems' ability to cope with a second wave of the pandemic, testing many nations that appeared to have the virus under control earlier this year. Governments are now struggling to balance new restrictions against the need to revive economies already battered by earlier draconian lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Groups wary of social isolation and economic hardship bristled at the suggestion of new restrictions.
The global COVID-19 increase in recent weeks has been driven by a surge in Europe, which has seen over 250,000 confirmed virus deaths, becoming the second region after Latin America. The pandemic has now claimed the lives of 1.1 million people and infected more than 42 million globally. The United States is the worst-affected country with 224,000 deaths, followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.
Europe as a region is reporting more daily cases than India, Brazil and the U.S. combined. The increase is partly explained as far more testing is being done than in the first wave of the pandemic. Europe reported 200,000 daily infections for the first time on Thursday, as many Southern European countries this week reported their highest number of cases in a single day.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said Saturday he had become the latest public figure to test positive for COVID-19 as the EU country faces record infection rates. Duda, 48, said in a tweet that he had tested positive but "felt fine" and was still on the job.
After Germany recorded its 10,000th COVID-19 death Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "the order of the day is to reduce contacts, (and) to meet as few people as possible." On Saturday, France also registered a new record of more than 45,000 COVID-19 infections over a 24-hour period. The French government extended an overnight curfew to cover areas home to around 46 million people, two out of every three French.
Spain became the first European country earlier this week to officially record a million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. People across the nation were bracing for a national state of emergency, overnight curfews and other new containment measures.