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Coronavirus capital by capital: How are Europeans coping with shutdown?



Mark Lowen

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For BBC Rome correspondent Mark Lowen, Italy’s deserted capital is reminiscent of wartime curfews

Across the Continent, Europeans are facing a barrage of restrictions on their freedoms as the authorities struggle to stop the new coronavirus spreading further. BBC correspondents describe the challenges faced in the cities where they live.

Spaniards do their best amid worsening crisis

Fear and uncertainty have encouraged residents to largely comply with a national lockdown which means they are not allowed out without a justifiable reason.

Madrid is at the heart of Spain’s pandemic. With about half of the country’s deaths, it has seen hotels and a massive conference centre converted into makeshift hospitals and an ice rink turned into a morgue.

A few shoppers go in and out of supermarkets and stay 1m (3ft) apart at the checkout. At pharmacies only one or two customers are allowed inside at a time, so queues of masked people snake out onto the street.

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Paseo de la Castellana, a major street in central Madrid, is almost deserted

Police enforce the restrictions and thousands of people have been fined. But the response has mostly been positive and the hashtag #QuedateEnCasa (stay at home) has caught the imagination. A wealth of specially created online activities has emerged to make the confinement more bearable for both parents and kids.

Grandparents play a huge role in childcare in Spain and there is widespread sympathy that they cannot be with their grandchildren.

At eight o’clock every night, Spaniards applaud the healthcare workers who are battling the virus.

Eternal city stilled as catastrophe grips Italy

I peer out of my window to see how long the queue is for the supermarket next door. If it’s more than 10 people, that could mean a half-hour wait to be let in one by one. As it happens, it’s shorter, so I nip down.

It’s calm and orderly. People chat while waiting, sharing surreal experiences. There’s no hoarding or panic buying. The toilet roll shelves have a few gaps but everything is still available.

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The streets of Rome are regularly disinfected

Outside, trams and buses still run – but they’re almost empty. Rome’s cobbled streets are pretty deserted. Movement is restricted to urgent medical or professional need. Police make spot checks on papers to justify why people are out. I was stopped on a run and told I could only exercise within 300m of my home. It’s reminiscent of wartime curfews.

Tourist sites are silent. In some ways, it’s a privilege to see the beauties of Rome so quiet – if it weren’t for the catastrophic circumstances that have made them so.

France finds its collective spirit

As the eye of this storm moves across eastern France, there’s a sense of officials racing to catch up with the wave: an emergency scramble for intensive-care beds and face masks for medical staff; a tightening of social restrictions seen as the main barrier to catastrophe.

Joggers can exercise no more than 1km (0.6 miles) from home, for no more than an hour, no more than once a day.

A hundred thousand police officers have been deployed to enforce the rules and there’s a six-month jail sentence for those who repeatedly fail to comply.

A friend told me how a neighbour of hers was fined for sitting alongside her husband in their car. My camera crew and I were stopped near the BBC office – the rules had changed and we now needed permission to be out filming.

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Queuing for a baguette in Paris may be a chore but it is a welcome chance to go outdoors

With each tightening of the quarantine, the pressure ratchets up another notch. And yet, there’s also something else that reveals itself in the small daily spaces of life under lockdown.

My husband and I regularly confront the question of who should take out the rubbish, but now I find myself quietly sizing up an opportunity of a few seconds out. A mundane chore, morphed into a rare treat.

The queue for my local supermarket now snakes around the block each day. And yet, I’ve had more conversations there, met more people, felt the collective spirit more than ever before.

Germans cling to outdoor freedoms

“I’ve got a whole pallet of toilet paper if you want it!” chuckled the delivery man as I walked past my little local supermarket. It’s been impossible to find, and pasta and flour shelves are always empty, too. Berliners must be doing a lot of home baking.

They’re certainly doing a lot of jogging. The terms of Germany’s lockdown differ slightly from state to state, but all allow for the national obsession with fresh air. People can leave their homes – as long as they’re with members of their own household.

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People queue 1.5m apart to buy organic groceries in Berlin

You can meet up with one other person to take the air, exercise or chat – strictly 1.5m apart of course. In this city of apartment dwellings, that matters.

The number of infections is rising. Many of those tested so far have been young and fit, some having returned from skiing holidays in Austria and Italy. Virologists speculate that this may be the reason for the relatively low number of deaths. But they warn, bleakly, that it will rise.

Challenge of densely populated Netherlands

Schiphol airport near Amsterdam was eerily quiet when I returned there from Scotland with my three-year-old, just as the crisis began to affect every aspect of life.

While we were away, a parent at my daughter’s nursery in The Hague tested positive for coronavirus, so I kept my daughter with me, working from home.

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Anna Holligan has been working from home with her daughter in The Hague

How do you keep your distance in one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries?

It’s a challenge 17.2 million people in the Netherlands have been told to embrace as the government pursues a “group (or herd) immunity” strategy – cocooning the most vulnerable while trying to control the spread of the virus.

The trams are largely empty, cannabis cafes are only doing takeaways, and now the council has told people not to visit the woods or the sand dunes. There will be no swimming, ballet, play dates or trips to the park for my daughter.

Anger and generosity in Hungary’s capital

The mood in this city of rebels and coffee shops is downbeat. Cafes are closed, and people queue a metre apart in swirling snow outside post offices, bakeries and pharmacies.

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Andras Foldes

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As wintry conditions returned to Budapest, the government sought unlimited powers to tackle the crisis

“My children think I’m at home, but in fact I’m going shopping,” an elderly lady confided to her friend on the 27 bus.

“They ordered me to stay at home, but I don’t like the food they bring me.”

The Budapest Bike Maffia, a civic group on wheels, has launched a Vitamin Boom campaign, distributing hot food and vitamins to homeless shelters.

Health crisis resurrects old borders

The spread of the pandemic has prompted a diplomatic row between Slovenia and neighbouring Serbia over the plight of more than 100 Serbian citizens.

They work in Slovenia, but remain Serbian residents. And when Serbia closed its borders last Friday, they remained stranded – some sleeping in their cars.

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This park in Ljubljana has been left deserted by the lockdown

Despite the tiff, both countries are facing a similar challenge. Slovenians only have to look across the border to Italy to see how serious this pandemic can become; Serbians are all too aware of the limitations of their health service.

Slovenians normally throw themselves into activities like skiing, snowshoeing and ice-climbing. But winter sports have been cancelled and the streets of Ljubljana are so quiet that birdsong is often the loudest noise.

In Serbia, flouting self-isolation and quarantine orders has led to increasingly restrictive curfews.

Observing quarantine in Austria’s capital

Most Austrians are self-isolating at the moment after strict controls were imposed by the government in mid-March. They are only allowed to leave home for essential work, to buy food or to help others.

But I can’t leave the house at all.

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Bethany has appeared live on BBC World News while in quarantine in Vienna

I have recently returned from working in Italy and have to stay in for two weeks.

I tried to get a delivery of supplies, but all deliveries are booked up for several weeks, so I am reliant on kind friends to bring food to me.

The streets are uncharacteristically quiet. I have become intensely aware of church bells ringing out on the hour all day long.

And every evening, a saxophonist plays Moon River and Summertime from his window.

Is Sweden ready for social distancing?

The view from my top-floor apartment in southern Stockholm has barely changed since the start of the crisis. Toddlers bundle up in warm jackets in the playground; commuters wait at the bus stop for reduced services; my local pizzeria remains popular with eat-in customers.

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Buses run but there are fewer of them in Stockholm

Sweden’s coronavirus death toll is lower than many of its European neighbours, and the authorities have made it clear they want to slow down the virus in a calm and controlled way. Large events are banned and secondary schools and universities are closed.

Swedes have been advised to work from home, avoid non-essential travel and stop visiting elderly relatives. Restaurants and bars have been told to offer table service (or take-out), to stop people lingering over counters.

I have friends who’ve been voluntarily self-isolating for a week despite showing no symptoms, while others have caught the train up to ski resorts.

More than half of Stockholmers live alone, but even the most introverted of my acquaintances are already fearful of increased loneliness should the government impose stricter rules.

Finns struggle to abandon outdoor life

People here may joke that social isolation isn’t a problem, as that’s how Finns live anyway.

But not enough of them are actually doing it, judging by the crowded running track at Toolonlahti Bay at the weekend.

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This Finnish bakery created some comic relief by poking fun at people stockpiling toilet paper

Finns were first told to self-isolate as much as possible. Schools, cultural and sporting facilities were shut, and entry in and out of Finland was restricted.

But so many people travelled north to ski resorts in Lapland that the slopes were closed.

Now the government has gone further, in effect sealing off the southern region of Uusimaa, home to a third of Finland’s population and the capital Helsinki.

Most of Finland’s coronavirus cases are here and social isolation has suddenly become more serious.

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Coronavirus: Putting the spotlight on the global wildlife trade




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Sun bear rescued from wildlife traffickers in Indonesia

Conservation experts say the coronavirus pandemic, which likely originated at a market selling wild animals in China, is a watershed moment for curbing the global wildlife trade, which can drive extinction and spread disease.

When Adam Peyman walked into a restaurant in Vietnam to order a meal he was shocked to find wild animals, including threatened species, on the menu, alongside traditional rice, noodles and seafood. Sting ray, porcupine, softshell turtle, wild pig and wild goat were all on offer.

“It was a bit of a surprise to see these foods,” says the wildlife manager for the animal welfare organisation, Humane Society International. “But, these kinds of wild foods are considered something of a luxury.”

Feasting on exotic game has become a sign of status and wealth in some Asian countries. The desire for wildlife as food or medicine drives a trade in wild animals, some procured illegally, creating a breeding ground for disease and the chance for viruses to leap to humans.

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US protest by the animal rights organisation, Peta

“The consumption of wild animals, especially wild mammals, which can carry diseases that can cross the species barrier, does pose a real threat to human health,” says Mr Peyman. “It’s hard to tell whether these animals are taken from the wild legally or not, some of them could have been smuggled in and then sold on these wet markets, as they’re called.”

Wet markets

Wet markets have become a familiar sight in many countries in Southeast Asia, particularly mainland China. Selling live fish, chickens and wildlife, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, they get their name from the melting ice used to preserve goods, as well as to wash the floors clean of blood from butchered animals.

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Illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar

Wet markets can be “timebombs” for epidemics, says Prof Andrew Cunningham, deputy director of science at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “This sort of way that we treat… animals as if they’re just our commodities for us to plunder – it comes back to bite us and it’s no surprise.”

Leap to humans

The current coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, likely originated in the Wuhan seafood market. Despite its name, the market was selling a lot more than fish, including snakes, porcupine and deer, according to one report.

After an initial cluster of cases connected to the market, the virus began spreading dramatically inside China, before reaching much of the world. The origins of the novel virus are unknown, but it most likely emerged in a bat, then made the leap to humans via another wild animal host.

Scientists have for decades been drawing attention to outbreaks of human diseases that have originated in animals, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) and Ebola.

The message from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society is clear: ban live animal markets that trade in wildlife, stop illegal trafficking and poaching of wild animals.

“Not only will this help prevent the spread of disease, it will address one of the major drivers of species extinction,” says the society.

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Wildlife Conservation Society

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The Wildlife Conservation Society is calling for a ban on wildlife consumption

In the wake of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China introduced a ban on all farming and consumption of live wildlife, which is expected to become law later this year. Thousands of wildlife farms raising animals such as porcupines, civets and turtles have been shut down. However, loopholes remain, such as the trade in wild animals for medicine, pets and scientific research.

Then there is the traditional Chinese medicines industry, which also uses wildlife products. Only recently, the Chinese government appears to have approved the use of an injection – ironically as a coronavirus treatment – that contains bear bile.

Campaigners worry these exemptions could pave way for illegal trade on wildlife meat, as it did in the past with, for instance, tiger and leopard body parts. So pangolin meat could still be available as the animal’s scales can be used for medicine and its nails as ornaments.

All eyes, therefore, are on the soon-to-be amended wildlife protection law – whether and how it would address those loopholes.

In neighbouring Vietnam, the government is rushing through legislation to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade at street markets and online. But some say it won’t be easy to change cultural attitudes or to enforce bans, when wet markets are part of the local culture, with the belief that the meat sold there is fresh and cheap.

Supply and demand

Prof Dirk Pfeiffer of City University of Hong Kong says the real issue is demand. “The people who are providing them, whether that’s farmed wild animals or animals from the wild, that’s an important source of income for them. Pushing it underground, that’s not the solution, so it needs to be a phased process.”

This isn’t the first time a pandemic has put the spotlight on wildlife trade. The 2002 Sars outbreak, which started in China and claimed more than 700 lives, was linked to bats and mongoose-like civets, although the source was never confirmed.

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Asian civet in Banda Aceh; the mammals were linked to Sars

Prof Cunningham says if we’re to stop another pandemic in the future, we must focus on causes as well as effects. At the root of the problem is the destruction of nature, bringing animals and humans into conflict.

“Even in protected forests, the forests are still there, but the wildlife’s gone from within them because they have ended up in markets,” he says. “.And it’s easy to finger point, but it’s not just happening in China, it’s happening in many other countries and even in the western world. We like to have exotic pets and many of those are wild caught and we ought to be putting our own house in order too.”

Additional reporting Navin Singh Khadka

Follow Helen on Twitter.

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‘We will meet again’: Queen urges Britons to stay strong | World news




The Queen has praised Britain’s “national spirit” in facing the challenge of coronavirus as she evoked wartime memories to reassure those “feeling a painful sense of separation from their loved ones” to take comfort in the fact: “We will meet again.”

In only the fifth special televised broadcast, other than Christmas messages, of her long reign, she said: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal.”

“We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us,” she said.

And she drew on the memories of her first broadcast to the nation some 80 years ago, when she and her sister Margaret made a radio broadcast for Children’s Hour.

Speaking with a picture from that first recording visible behind her, she said: “We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety.

“Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.”

She added: “We should take comfort that, while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again: we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

The government hopes that an intervention from the Queen, planned in close consultation with Downing Street, will help to shore up public commitment to the self-isolation guidelines amid fears that warmer weather could lead some to waver.

There had been speculation the Queen might broadcast on Easter Sunday. But it is understood that both Buckingham Palace and Downing Street ultimately agreed on Sunday night as the best moment to maximise the impact of her speech. A senior No 10 official said Buckingham Palace and the prime minister, Boris Johnson, “have been speaking throughout” about the timing.

“The Queen is the best judge of when to talk to the country and we absolutely agree that now is the right time,” the official said. “We have asked the country to make huge sacrifices and life is very difficult at the moment for a great many people. Hearing from Her Majesty the Queen at this time is an important way of helping to lift the nation’s spirits.”

Elizabeth, 94 this month and said to remain in good health, recorded her message at Windsor Castle, where she and the Duke of Edinburgh, 98, are staying for the foreseeable future during the pandemic.

The broadcast was filmed in extraordinary circumstances, with only one cameraman, wearing personal protective equipment, allowed into the White Drawing Room with the elderly monarch, to mitigate the risks to both to her and others.

In a rare and deeply personal address to the nation and Commonwealth, she acknowledged the “pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones”.

She praised NHS frontline workers, care workers and those carrying out essential roles, “who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of all of us”. She told them: “Every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times.”

She also thanked those who were staying at home, “thereby helping to protect the vulnerable”.
In a rallying call, she added: “Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.”

Her hope, she said, was that those in years to come would look back and say that this generation of Britons “were as strong as any”. She added: “The pride in who we are is not part of our past, it defines our present and our future.”

It was, she said, an increasingly challenging time of disruption: “a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all”.

Her message incorporated footage of NHS frontline staff, workers making deliveries, the armed forces constructing the NHS Nightingale London field hospital and video of the #clapforourcarers moments around the country, along with pictures of rainbows drawn by children.

Clap for carers: millions applaud NHS staff on coronavirus frontlines – video report

“The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit; and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children.” she said.

Apart from her Christmas message, it is rare for the monarch to make a special televised address. She has previously done so at the time of the Gulf war in 1991, on the eve of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, on the death of the Queen Mother in 2002, and on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

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Scottish fruit farmers recruit thousands of locals to save harvest | World news




Scottish fruit farmers have solved a recruitment crisis which could have resulted in this year’s harvest of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries being destroyed.

Several thousand people, including students and restaurant and bar workers laid off due the coronavirus outbreak, have taken low-paid fruit-picking jobs in Tayside and Fife normally done by seasonal workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Farmers across the UK have warned that fruit and vegetable harvests are threatened by the Europe-wide coronavirus lockdown, which has prevented tens of thousands of workers flying in from eastern Europe for the picking season.

Recruitment agencies have proposed chartering special flights to bring in workers from the continent, but in Tayside most vacancies have been filled by locals after an urgent appeal from the region’s fruit farmers to fill 3,200 vacancies.

James Porter, a fruit farmer who helps run Angus Growers, a farmers organisation with members in Angus, Perthshire and Fife, said most of the 19 farms that took part in the appeal have filled all their vacancies.

“We’ve had a big response,” he said. “It’s very encouraging and it gives me a bit of hope we might still be harvesting our crops.” Many were students whose university courses had stopped, who normally had summer jobs.

Scottish farms produce about 25% of the UK’s soft fruit each year, he said. Angus Growers members produced 12,400 tons of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries last year.

Picking for the first crops would start in two weeks, Porter said, although picking for berries grown in heated tunnels had begun. Picking would accelerate in May and peak from June onwards.

He said fruit picking was a skilled and demanding job; it required speed, dexterity and knowledge about which fruit to pick. Migrant workers had been doing this work for 10 to 15 years, he said, and were extremely fast.

New recruits also needed to learn how to work safely with machinery and equipment, and maintain social distancing while picking to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus.

New recruits took time and training to develop the skills his normal workforce had, and it was unclear whether the people who had signed up for this season’s harvest would turn up or stay on if they found the job too demanding.

Local recruits may also leave if their old jobs return and universities resume teaching once the lockdown is relaxed, he added. “A lot of things have to line up and work this summer. We really are in uncharted territory.”

Similar problems confronted asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprout farmers this summer, he said.

“This is a big chunk of people’s healthy eating in the summer months, particularly in conditions like this [during the lockdown] where people aren’t necessarily having a healthy lifestyle, having lots of exercise and so on,” he said. “It’s all the more important to make sure we secure the healthy ingredients they need.”

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