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Spain bans public smoking, France eyes new rules as COVID cases surge

Melbourne declares COVID state of disaster
Governments around the world reassess COVID-19 lockdown measures as infections spike 02:10

Paris — Spain has banned smoking in outdoor public spaces where people can't maintain social distancing of at least six feet and closed nightclubs amid a surge in new coronavirus cases. The moves followed research by the Spanish health ministry that showed a heightened risk of smokers transferring the new virus to other people in droplets exhaled with smoke.

Galicia, in northwestern Spain, was the first to issue a blanket ban on smoking in streets, bars and restaurants, where social distancing was not possible. Health Minister Salvador Illa then announced the ban was being implemented nationwide on Friday — part of a number of new measures aimed at curbing the resurgent disease.

A woman smokes at the terrace of a restaurant, during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Las Palmas
A woman smokes outside a restaurant in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria, Spain, August 13, 2020. BORJA SUAREZ/REUTERS

The number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed daily across Spain has been rising at an alarming rate. A total of 3,169 new cases were recorded on Thursday, taking the total number in the country to 329,784. In June, Spain averaged just 150 new cases per day.

The Spanish health ministry also pointed out that tobacco use makes smokers more vulnerable to serious respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. "Current evidence indicates that smoking is associated with... a higher risk of developing a severe form of symptoms," it said.

The surge in new cases since Spain lifted its lockdown on June 21 prompted the United Kingdom to remove the country from its list of safe nations for travel late last month.

France tracks 331 COVID clusters

On Thursday, Britain also removed France from that travel corridor list, citing a sharp rise in new cases there. That means all travelers going from France to the U.K. — including Britons returning from vacations — must self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival. France has threatened to impose a reciprocal quarantine for travelers from the U.K., which has a much higher national infection rate than France.

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London
Passengers arrive from Paris at the Eurostar train terminal at St. Pancras station in London, as Britain imposes a 14-day quarantine on arrival from France from Saturday amid the coronavirus pandemic, in London, Britain, August 14, 2020. PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS

Paris and the Bouches-du-Rhône region, around Marseille in southern France, have been declared high-risk zones where the coronavirus is actively circulating. In Paris, the incidence rate — the number of cases per 100,000 people — doubled last week to 46.2, far above the national average of 17 (excluding cases arriving from abroad).

Local authorities have been given the power to introduce strict new measures to try to contain the virus, which could include closing bars and restaurants again or restricting numbers in public places. 

Already several towns, including Paris, have introduced new rules this week ordering people to wear masks outside on busy streets.

France requires masks inside public places
Pedestrians wearing protective face masks walk by a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) information sign, as France reinforces mask-wearing as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country, France, August 13, 2020. CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS

France's health chief, Jerome Salomon, said Friday that both Paris and Bouches-du-Rhône remained high risk. Both are densely populated urban areas, with a high youth population.

In France, as elsewhere in the world, the number of new cases in the 20-somethings has risen dramatically. That has been attributed to young people moving around and mingling more since lockdowns were lifted, and to the demographic including a higher percentage of asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

The French government, health officials, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all called on young adults to be more vigilant, reminding them that they could unwittingly spread COVID-19 to vulnerable family members, especially during the summer season when there are more family and social gatherings, and more travel for vacations.

French citizens have been encouraged to vacation in their own country, but that may have contributed to new clusters in traditional vacation spots such as the Riviera and Normandy.

The country is currently investigating 331 coronavirus clusters, including 30 new ones that have emerged in recent days. Half of all current clusters in France have been traced back to professional contacts, leading to mounting calls for masks to be made mandatory in most workplaces from the start of September, when people traditionally return to work after their summer vacations.

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