Mandatory masks becoming the rule amid Europe’s virus uptick

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ROME (AP) – New rules on wearing masks in England came into effect Friday, with people going to shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings, while Romania reported a record for daily infections and new cases nearly doubled in France.

Those in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds ($127) by police if they refuse. The British government had given mixed signals for weeks before deciding on the policy. Venues like restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are exempt.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says officers will be available as a last resort but that he hopes the public “will continue to do the right thing” to protect other citizens.

In Belgium, health authorities said a three-year old girl has died after testing positive for COVID-19 as new infections surged 89% from the previous week.

On Thursday, Belgian authorities beefed up restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, including making masks mandatory in crowded outdoor public spaces. Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic with 64,847 cases and 9,812 deaths recorded so far.

Overall, Europe has seen over 201,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll from coronavirus worldwide is much higher than all reported numbers, due to limited testing and other issues.

Romania set an all-time high for daily new infections Friday and authorities blamed a failure to wear masks properly for the surge.

Many in Romania haven’t been wearing masks indoors or on public transport. A relaxing of measures also stripped authorities of the ability to quarantine or isolate the new cases or keep COVID-19 patients in hospitals. More than 4,500 patients quickly left their hospitals.

France, too, is seeing case numbers rising, with more than 1,000 new infections reported Thursday as people let their guard down heading into the country’s summer break.

Health authorities say cases on the French mainland have surged 66% in the past three weeks and 26% in the last week alone. Concerns about rising cases had already prompted the government to make mask-wearing mandatory in all indoor public spaces this week.

In Italy, new infections reported Thursday jumped to over 300, the first time they had surpassed that number since mid-June. Most new cases came from northern Italy, where the outbreak in Europe began, but southern regions have lately been seeing clusters of infections.

Many recent cases have been traced to people returning from abroad, most of them foreign workers. Other clusters were among migrants rescued at sea and vacationers.

Last week, the mayor of the tourist-mecca island of Capri ordered people to wear masks while walking in the streets. Capri’s main square, with its trendy cafes and its narrow streets, had been jammed with holiday-goers, many not wearing masks.

Three young Romans who returned home after a holiday tested positive, Italian media said Friday.

In Italy, masks must be worn in shops, banks, churches, on public transport and in all places where it’s impossible to keep a safe distance apart, including outdoors.

Amid fears in Spain that poor living conditions for seasonal agricultural workers are creating coronavirus hotspots, Spain’s farm minister said Friday said authorities are pressing employers to provide decent accommodations and transport for the workers. The Health Ministry reported 971 new daily infections, the biggest daily increase since Spain’s lockdown ended.

Some clusters in Europe have been linked to workplaces, including at slaughterhouses in Germany.

Authorities have linked more than 2,000 cases to the outbreak at the Toennies slaughterhouse in the western German town of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, which had led last month to a partial local lockdown. The company that runs the slaughterhouse said 30 more employees have tested positive — but most of them were old cases.

Russia, which had halted all international flights and shut down its borders in late March to stem the outbreak, is resuming international flights starting on Aug. 1 with just three countries – Britain, Turkey and Tanzania – while the government works to expand the list.

Earlier this month, Russia didn’t make the list of countries whose citizens are allowed to travel to European Union countries.

So far, Russia’s health officials have reported over 800,000 confirmed cases and 13,046 deaths.

And as scientists around the world search for a vaccine to halt the pandemic, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed activists seeking to oppose vaccinations as “nuts.”

Johnson was promoting a campaign for flu vaccinations ahead of winter. Britain has Europe’s worst recorded pandemic toll at over 45,600 deaths.

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Associated Press writers across Europe contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Shoppers wear face coverings to protect themselves from COVID-19 as they walk along Oxford Street in London, Friday, July 24, 2020. New rules on wearing masks in England have come into force, with people going to shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings. Police can hand out fines of 100 pounds ($127) if people refuse, but authorities are hoping that peer pressure will prompt compliance. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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