Illegal parties across Europe raise fears about rising COVID-19 cases

Months of confinement and isolation on the European continent have given way to improvised and illegal parties, raising fears of an increase in cases of COVID-19. While many people are simply looking for some fun after months of bans at festivals, discos and parties, such massive gatherings have added to fears that a second deadly wave of infections could affect the whole of Europe. In Portugal, the government said on Thursday it would tighten restrictions in several areas of Greater Lisbon starting July 1 to allow residents to leave their homes for food, medicine or work only, and limit meetings to five people. The move came after reports of parties that drew as many as 1,000 people. The country of 10 million was initially hailed as one of Europe’s success stories, and the government’s swift response credited limiting the death toll to 1,549. But in recent weeks, the number of cases has skyrocketed, resulting in a rate that is among the highest on the continent when it comes to new cases per 100,000 residents. Along with outbreaks located in a handful of neighborhoods and industrial centers, social gatherings have proven to be fertile ground for the virus, with 76 cases linked to a birthday party in the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, which they attended 100 people earlier this month and another 20 cases linked to a party held days later in a camp in the southwest of the country. After some 1,000 people attended a beach party near Lisbon last weekend, authorities began cracking down on residents of and around the capital, banning drinking in public spaces and banning restaurants from serving alcohol after 8 pm “After doing everything right, we are not going to ruin it now,” Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa told reporters on Monday. Authorities are also concerned that young people, who often have milder or asymptomatic symptoms, may be inadvertently contracting and spreading the virus. And with thousands of anonymous attendees entering and leaving the events, the appropriate tests and follow-up to demonstrate whether the contagion is occurring will be practically impossible, explains Dr. Celso Cunha, a virologist at the University of Lisbon. “Even if they don’t usually get that sick, young people still transmit the virus,” he said. As countries crack down on illegal parties, the task has largely been left to the police. This week, the police force clashed sporadically with the thousands who flocked to the Canal Saint-Martin and the Marais district of Paris for the annual Fête de la Musique, while in Berlin, more than 100 officers disrupted a demonstration that became a spontaneous party of 3,000 people earlier this month. In Berlin, the police also warned of an increase in illegal parties in city parks. An analysis carried out this week by the British newspaper The Guardian suggested that the total number of cases had increased by 37% last week in Germany, where authorities are struggling to control an outbreak in a slaughterhouse, while France saw a 12% increase in cases over the past week. Warmer weather and relaxation of restrictions also fueled gatherings in England, where the police are grappling with the proliferation of parties, hastily organized on social media and held in underpasses of motorways, parks and industrial estates. Earlier this month, two illegal events in Greater Manchester drew some 6,000 people. Police have sometimes struggled to disperse illegal parties with clashes in London, where crowds attacked officers with bottles and attacked patrols on Wednesday, leaving 22 police officers injured. “We have seen large numbers of people completely ignoring health regulations, seeming not to care at all about their own health or that of their families, wanting to have big parties,” the London police chief told Reuters news agency. , Cressida Dick. In Spain, which suffered its highest number of cases in three weeks on Wednesday, health officials have long warned about the risks of social gatherings. “Only an outbreak caused by a small part could be the start of a new epidemic nationwide,” said Fernando Simón, the health official who is leading the country’s response to the virus, in late May, after a group of cases in the northeast of the country that was linked to an illicit birthday party in which four of the approximately 20 attendees tested positive. Days later, another illegal party made headlines around the world and saw Spain impose a € 10,400 fine on Prince Joaquin of Belgium after royalty breached the country’s quarantine rules to attend a party in southern Spain. Later he tested positive for the virus. Spanish officials are now preparing for the coming months, as the country’s deep-seated culture of traditional festivals faces the country’s new rules on physical estrangement. The scope of the challenge was revealed this week after hundreds of people, few of them wearing masks, spontaneously gathered in the Menorcan city of Ciutadella to commemorate Sant Joan’s day despite the official celebrations being suspended. With information from Reuters