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COVID-19

Coronavirus pandemic opens up divide between cities and countryside across Europe

From Norway to France and Spain, the coronavirus lockdown in much of Europe has pitted rural people against city-dwellers flocking to the countryside to wait out the pandemic sweeping the continent.

Coronavirus pandemic opens up divide between cities and countryside across Europe
AFP

“Parigo home, virus!” proclaimed graffiti pictured in the local newspaper in Cap-Ferret, a small town in southeastern France, employing the derogatory epithet for people from the French capital — many of whom have a second home there.

The image summed up the sentiment of many in an isolated region little affected by the epidemic so far, but now fearing an explosion of imported cases.

Monday night saw Parisians leaving the capital in droves on the eve of a nationwide home confinement announced by President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to halt the virus's spread.

“We knew when the temporary residents arrived because there were so many people in the supermarkets,” said Patrick Rayton, mayor of La Couarde-sur-Mer, a village on the Ile de Re, a bucolic island off France's western coast.

The bridge connecting the village to the mainland was crammed with cars on Tuesday morning in scenes reminiscent of the summer holidays.

The police had to step in at the local supermarket to remind clients of the new health safety rules, which require people to keep a distance of one metre (3.3 feet) from each other, Rayton said.

According to the commune president Lionel Quillet, “the new arrivals were making a run on the groceries, there were tensions with the locals.” 

“Later, the weather was nice so they went out for bike rides, or were playing watersports” despite the ban on group activities, he said.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus around Europe: An inside view into the crisis in different countries

'Pure madness'

Further up the coast in Brittany, authorities in the region of Morbihan banned all accommodation rentals on four islands, including the popular Belle-Ile.

“The habitation of furnished lodgings that are not primary residences is restricted to the owner, and in their presence, their children and parents,” according to a government decree.

One major fear is overrunning emergency services and hospitals in rural communities that often are already under-serviced.

“We have a very limited safety net in terms of supplies,” said Denis Pallua, the mayor of Ouessant, one of the islands. “There is only one doctor, we would be very quickly overwhelmed.”

Similar concerns exist in Italy, the European country hit hardest by the coronavirus epidemic to date.

Thousands of people fled Italy's north in the wake of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's decree on March 8th to lock down all Lombardy and other affected regions. 

Only people with legitimate reasons are allowed to travel, and then on presentation of sworn statements to authorities at train stations.

Faced with the prospect of weeks of quarantine, many people originally from the south who work in the north filled trains to return home, causing alarm bells to ring.

Last week, the president of the southern Puglia region, Michele Emiliano, said people from the north continued to arrive, “and with them come thousands more chances of contagion.”

Virology professor Roberto Brioni of Milan's Vita-Salute San Raffaello university noted the risks from the exodus to the countryside, home to large numbers of older people most vulnerable to coronavirus infection and the severe health problems it can cause.

Such a large-scale displacement was “pure madness,” he said, since the travellers “bring infection with them.”

Norway bans cabin stays

Norway said on Thursday it would ban people from going to their country houses in order to prevent healthcare services in small rural communities from being submerged by the new coronavirus pandemic.

Those who violate the ban could face a fine of up to 15,000 kroner ($1,320) or, failing payment, 10 days in prison, prosecution authorities said.   

Many Norwegians have in recent weeks fled to their country houses, often chalets in the mountains, in the hopes of escaping the virus thanks to their relative isolation. Some have defied authorities' recent appeals to return to their primary residences.
 
Randi Hausken/flickr
   
The government had for several days been threatening to introduce a ban if people did not heed authorities' calls, and finally made good on its threat on Thursday.
   
“It's a decision that, in the end, I had hoped we wouldn't have to take but we will ban stays outside (people's) residential municipality,” Health Minister Bent Hoie said.

Spanish region up in arms

In Spain, the southeastern region of Murcia, renowned for its beaches and agricultural hinterland, is confronting a mass influx from Madrid.

Furious, regional president Fernando Lopez Miras lamented that an infection-prevention lockdown has instead been “converted into a sort of holiday on the coast.”

Last Friday, he decreed the immediate lockdown of all tourist zones in the region.

Meanwhile, the rural Perigord region in western France saw its first coronavirus case diagnosed on Wednesday: a Parisian, according to health professionals, who is hoped will remain an isolated case.

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COVID-19

Covid-19 medicine Paxlovid now available in Denmark

Denmark has received its first supply of Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment for Covid-19.

Covid-19 medicine Paxlovid now available in Denmark

A first stock of Paxlovid, a tablet which can be described by doctors to combat Covid-19 symptoms, has been delivered to Denmark, health authorities confirmed in a statement.

“The first delivery has arrived today and the rest will be delivered continuously during the coming period,” the Danish Health Authority said.

Denmark has purchased 40,000 treatment courses of the medicine.

Doctors decide when to prescribe the medicine, which is suitable for adults infected with Covid-19 who are at risk of serious illness with Covid-19. It is taken over a course of five days when symptoms are still mild.

“Treatment with Paxlovid is for the patients who are at greatest risk of serious illness with Covid-19 and the treatment will be an important part of the future management of Covid-19,” the Health Authority said in the statement.

The arrival of a medicine for Covid-19 does not signal the end of vaccination which remains “the most effective measure to prevent serious illness and death,” it said.

Denmark has purchased the Paxlovid supply through a deal with pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The infectious disease control agency State Serum Institute (SSI) has 2.2 million Covid-19 vaccines which have been in storage for so long that they are no longer usable, news wire Ritzau earlier reported.

The vaccines were purchased when Denmark was acquiring as many as possible during the pandemic but because they are not effective against newer variants of the coronavirus, they can no longer be used.

Another 3.6 million doses in storage at SSI can only be used for the initial two doses for as-yet unvaccinated people – who are now limited in number given Denmark’s high vaccine uptake. This means they are unusable in the current booster programme.

The cost of the 5.8 million vaccines is estimated at between 116 and 783 million kroner.

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