Germany Bans Gatherings as Europe Intensifies Bid to Check Virus

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European nations tightened restrictions designed to check the spread of the coronavirus, with Germany banning gatherings of more than two people, Spain moving to extend a state of emergency and Italy ordering a halt to domestic travel.

While Germany stopped short of confining people to their homes, it will prevent citizens meeting in groups for at least two weeks, with only families and people sharing a home exempt, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday. Restaurants will be closed except for takeout and delivery services.

“No one wants to stand before the people and discuss such rules,” Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin after a video conference with regional leaders.

Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, banned any movement inside the country in its latest attempt to contain the disease, which has already killed almost 5,000 people.

Citizens will be restricted to the municipality where they currently are other than for “non deferrable and proven business or health reasons or other urgent matters,” the health ministry said. The measure applies to all private and public transportation.

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In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will seek parliamentary approval to extend a state of emergency to April 11 after almost 400 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours lifted the total number of fatalities to 1,720. The nation is dealing with Europe’s second-worst outbreak after Italy.

While the current 15-day emergency, declared March 14, did not require parliamentary approval, lawmakers are expected to grant Sanchez’s extension request and he said he’s convinced they will “understand the situation.”

The new Italian measures followed Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s decision late Saturday to temporarily halt all non-essential business activity as the country of 60 million faces its biggest challenge since World War II. Supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices and other essential businesses will stay open, he said.

There were concerns that thousands of idled workers with roots in the south could head there, bringing the disease with them, after the tighter lockdown was put in place. Vincenzo De Luca, governor of the Campania region around Naples, urged Conte in a phone call Sunday to take “drastic measures” to block such a flow of citizens, the regional government said on its website.

Merkel has been at odds with some of the nation’s 16 states about how best to contain the virus, which has infected almost 22,000 people and claimed more than 70 lives across Germany.

The chancellor is against a rigid lockdown, fearing that such a measure could backfire, but wants a more coordinated approach on restrictions to public life, according to a person familiar with her thinking.

— With assistance by Richard Weiss, Rodrigo Orihuela, and John Follain

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