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Italy, Spain Tighten Restrictions After Coronavirus Cases Spike

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Once again, the coronavirus is sweeping across Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany is facing very difficult months ahead. We heard about rising cases in France yesterday on the show. And today we focus on Italy and Spain. Both countries suffered terribly at the start of the pandemic, and they are again facing shutdowns. We have two reports, beginning with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: On Sunday, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced new restrictions, he did not call it a lockdown. That's what he imposed in March when Italy became the first Western country hit by the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "Italy cannot afford another lockdown," he said. "We must safeguard health but also sustain our economy." For the next month, bars and restaurants must close by 6 p.m. and gyms, cinemas and swimming pools are shut down. Media report health experts recommended Conte not order but induce Italians to stay home by removing all temptations. But after complying with the March lockdown, people are pushing back.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

POGGIOLI: In Rome, restaurant owners took to the streets to protest the early closing hours.

CARLO MUZI: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: Carlo Muzi owns a pizza restaurant. He says, "we have no guarantees from the government. We can't keep paying workers on furloughs. Our employees are desperate. What do we tell them?" This was a peaceful protest, but anger and violence exploded across the country. In Turin, demonstrators smashed windows and looted Gucci and Apple stores. In Milan, police used tear gas to scatter rampaging youths gangs.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS CANNISTER EXPLOSIONS)

POGGIOLI: In Rome, the neofascist group Forza Nuova broke a midnight curfew Sunday and swarmed through Piazza del Popolo, letting off firecrackers and lighting colored flares, with police unable to maintain control. The Ministry of Interior says much of the violence is fomented by ultra right-wing groups, violent soccer fans and organized crime. In an effort to calm tensions, Prime Minister Conte said he'll present a new package of economic measures today to aid businesses forced to make sacrifices by the new restrictions. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: And I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona, where a second state of emergency was declared this Sunday, and a nationwide curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. was put into place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: In a televised address, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Spain and Europe are completely immersed in a second wave of the pandemic. He gave Spain's 17 autonomous regions the ability to limit mobility. So far, five have closed their borders. The state of emergency will last 15 days, but Sanchez is hoping to have enough parliamentary support to prolong it until April of next year, while the daily death rate is much lower than what it was at the peak of the pandemic, when nearly a thousand deaths were being reported a day, hospitalizations are rising.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FERNANDO SIMON: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: If the rate continues to rise, Spain's health emergency chief, Fernando Simon, said hospitals could collapse by mid-November. Under the first state of emergency declared in March, Spain had one of the world's strictest confinement rules. For three months, people weren't allowed to leave their homes except for going to work, to a doctor's appointment, to buy food or walk the dog. Cases were brought down to almost a trickle by the end of June, when the state of emergency was lifted. But some Spaniards are now left wondering how the situation has gotten out of hand yet again.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

BENAVIDES: In Barcelona, hundreds of people protested against the curfew on Monday evening, asking for an increase in funding for public services instead of restrictive measures. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.