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More masks, less play: Europe tightens rules as virus surges

GENEVA (AP) — Governments across Europe are ratcheting up restrictions to try to beat back a resurgence of the coronavirus that has sent new infections on the continent to their highest weekly level since the start of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday there were more than 700,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Europe last week, a jump of 34% from the previous week. Britain, France, Russia and Spain accounted for more than half of the new infections.

The increasing caseload is partly the result of more testing, but the U.N. health agency noted that deaths were also up 16% last week from the week before. Doctors are warning that while many of the new cases are in younger people, who tend to have milder symptoms, the virus could again start spreading widely among older people, resulting in more serious illnesses.

Italy and France are restricting parties and putting limits on restaurants and bars. The Netherlands went further and ordered the closing of all bars and restaurants, And to discourage partying at home, it banned the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m.

The Czech Republic is closing all schools until Nov. 2, while Latvia is ordering teenagers to switch to distance learning for a week. And Britain unveiled a three-tiered system for deciding what restrictions to impose, based on how severe the outbreak is in certain areas.

Those moves reflect a new approach to containing the virus among governments wary of hurting already fragile economies. Officials are eager to avoid the total lockdowns they imposed in the spring that resulted in heavy job losses. Instead, they are relying on a patchwork of regional or targeted restrictions that have sometimes caused confusion and frustration by those affected.

The U.N. health agency appeared to support the new approach, with WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic saying lockdowns should be a “last resort.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a European Union advisory body Tuesday that she is watching the rising infection figures “with great concern.”

“We must not squander now what we achieved through restrictions in recent months,” Merkel said in a video address.

“None of us found it easy to impose those restrictions,” she added. “Many people lost their lives, and so it is all the more important that we ensure now that a further lockdown won’t be necessary, that our health system isn’t overstrained again.”

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte ordered bars and restaurants to close at midnight and banned pickup sports games among friends and parties in enclosed spaces. Private gatherings at homes with more than six people who don’t live together are also discouraged.

“Our objective is clear: We must prevent our country from plunging back into a generalized lockdown,” Conte said.

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