Amid new COVID-19 cases, masks becoming mandatory in Europe

New rules on wearing masks in England came into effect Friday, with people going to shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings. The move came a day after Belgium imposed its own mask requirement to slow increasing coronavirus infections.

Those in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds ($127) by police if they refuse. The British government had given mixed signals for weeks before deciding on the policy. Venues like restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are exempt.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says officers will be available as a last resort but that he hopes the public “will continue to do the right thing” to protect other citizens.

In Belgium, health authorities said a three-year old girl has died after testing positive for COVID-19 as new infections surged 89% from the previous week.

On Thursday, Belgian authorities beefed up restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, including making masks mandatory in crowded outdoor public spaces. A country of 11.5 million, Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic with 64,847 cases and 9,812 deaths recorded so far.

In Italy, the number of daily new infections reported Thursday jumped to over 300, the first time they had surpassed more than 300 since mid-June. Most of the new cases have occurred in northern Italy, where the outbreak in Europe began in February. But southern regions, relatively spared from the worst of the pandemic, have lately been seeing clusters of infections.

Many recent cases have been traced to people returning from abroad, most of them foreign workers from Asia, Eastern Europe or the Balkans. Other clusters were among migrants rescued at sea and southern Italy.

But there have also been clusters sparked among vacationers, including in Riccione, a beach resort town on the Adriatic Sea, linked to a young woman’s contacts in a disco.

Last week, the mayor of Capri, one of the two main towns on the tourist-mecca island in the Mediterranean off Naples, ordered people to wear masks while walking in the streets. Capri’s main square, with its trendy cafes, and its narrow streets lined with luxury fashion shops, had been jammed with holiday-goers, many of them not wearing masks.

Three young Romans who returned home this week after a holiday were positive for Covid-19, Italian media said Friday.

In Italy, masks must be worn in shops, banks, churches, on public transport and in all places where it’s impossible to keep a safe distance apart, including outdoors.

Amid fears in Spain that poor living conditions for seasonal agricultural workers are creating coronavirus hotspots, that nation’s farm minister on Friday said authorities are pressing employers to provide decent accommodations and transport. Spain’s Health Ministry reported 971 new infections on Thursday in the last 24 hours, the biggest daily increase in the country since lockdown ended.

Some clusters in Europe have been linked to workplaces, including at a slaughterhouse in Germany. The company that runs the slaughterhouse that was at the center of a major outbreak last month said 30 more employees have tested positive for the coronavirus — but most of them were old cases.

Authorities have linked more than 2,000 cases to the outbreak at the Toennies slaughterhouse in the western German town of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, which led last month to a partial lockdown of the surrounding area. Those restrictions have since been lifted and the facility has reopened after a four-week closure.

And as scientists around the world search for a vaccine to halt the pandemic, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed activists seeking to oppose vaccinations as “nuts.”

Johnson was promoting a campaign for flu vaccinations ahead of winter. Britain has Europe’s worst recorded pandemic toll at over 45,600 deaths.

Overall, Europe has seen over 201,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic worldwide is much higher than all reported numbers, due to limited testing and other issues.

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