France back in coronavirus lockdown as US surges to daily record

People walk by high-rise buildings during the evening rush hour at the business district of La Defense west of Paris on October 21, 2020, as the country faces a new wave of infections to the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus). (AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

France back in coronavirus lockdown as US surges to daily record

  • From midnight, France’s 65 million people were largely confined to their homes, needing written statements to leave
  • President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the second wave “will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first”

PARIS: France was under a new virus lockdown on Friday, as the resurgent pandemic hit new heights in the United States with a daily record of more than 90,000 cases, just days before the presidential election.
From midnight, France’s 65 million people were largely confined to their homes, needing written statements to leave, in the latest drastic measure to curb a disease that has infected more than 44.5 million people worldwide and killed nearly 1.2 million.
As lockdowns return, oil prices dropped on fears of a slowdown in demand but tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet reported strong quarterly earnings, reflecting the economic shifts caused by the global outbreak.
And in the latest bleak warning, the UN’s biodiversity panel said future pandemics could be more frequent, deadly and economically damaging.
The United States, where the coronavirus has overshadowed President Donald Trump’s November 3 re-election bid, announced 91,295 new cases in 24 hours, surging past the 90,000-mark for the first time to a total of almost nine million.
In the French capital Paris, some medics voiced fears that steady traffic and appreciable numbers of people on public transport showed the public was not taking the lockdown as seriously a second time round.
“Crossing Paris this morning looked more like an ordinary day than the first day of a lockdown,” the director of Paris hospitals Martin Hirsch wrote on Twitter.
“We don’t have the choice, we are obliged to live, do our shopping and behave as if it is normal even if there are some safety measures,” said Fabrice Angelique, 18, buying headphones at a books and electronics store in Paris.
Although there were some scenes of people stocking up on essentials, the president of the Intermarche chain, Thierry Cotillard denied there had been any “hysteria” in supermarkets.
According to a poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting for France Info and Le Figaro, seven out of 10 people in France are in favor of the new lockdown, which is scheduled to last a month with bars and restaurants closed until at least December and travel between regions limited.
Factories and building sites will remain open, as will creches and schools — although children aged six and up must wear masks in class.
President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the second wave “will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first” in a country that has already seen 36,000 deaths.
But he insisted this lockdown would be less severe than measures imposed during the first wave in March-April.
Europe is again the epicenter of the pandemic according to the World Health Organization.
Nottingham became the latest of a swathe of cities across central and northern England to enter the highest tier of local restrictions Friday, with the 2.4 million residents of Leeds set to follow next week.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a lighter round of shutdowns from Monday, closing bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as theaters, operas and cinemas.
Spain’s parliament on Thursday approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency, which was declared on Sunday for an initial two weeks.
Sweden, known for its light-touch approach, recorded its highest number of infections for the second day in a row, prompting a warning for people in the capital and the more densely populated south to avoid social interaction.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had no plans to introduce a sweeping lockdown, even as the country saw record tolls with reports of ambulance queues at hospitals and medical shortages.
But the Vatican said Pope Francis would resume a remote, live-streamed version of his weekly general audiences with the public, “in order to avoid any possible future risk to the health of the participants.”
EU leaders held a video summit on the crisis, according to European sources the first in a series of such calls to improve coordination.
The European Central Bank meanwhile pledged to bolster its pandemic stimulus in December.
The economic recovery is “losing momentum more rapidly than expected” after the partial rebound seen in the summer, ECB president Christine Lagarde said after a virtual meeting of the 25-member governing council.
But forecasts now show eurozone powerhouse Germany shrinking less than previously expected this year, at 5.5 percent, followed by a 4.4 percent rebound in 2021.
“With the tough and decisive measures we have taken... we have a real chance to achieve this growth,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.
Amongst the welter of bad news, the UN biodiversity panel warned future pandemics could be even worse, adding that they posed an “existential threat” to humanity.
The authors of a special report on biodiversity and pandemics said habitat destruction and insatiable consumption made animal-borne diseases far more likely to make the jump to people in future.


Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 40 min 34 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.


Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.