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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

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Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

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Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Europe Talks: Fostering dialogue among Europeans on critical issues

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FRANCE 24's editorial team joined forces with 17 other European media outlets to create a platform where Europeans with disparate political views can exchange and discuss their ideas. Join the Europe Talks project.

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In the age of algorithms and internet filter bubbles, when was the last time you openly debated with someone who holds opposing viewpoints? To expand horizons and encourage debate, France 24 is offering the opportunity to take part in a cross-border experiment called "Europe Talks". The project, which brings together 18 European media outlets, aims to foster dialogue among Europeans.

Seven questions

Taking part in the project couldn’t be simpler. Starting today and until November 30, a small box will be visible on the web pages of France24.com and its European media partners that poses seven questions on current events being debated in Europe: Should public health always be the first priority during a pandemic, even if the economy suffers? Should wearing masks be compulsory in all public places in Europe? Should cars be banned from major city centres?

Once you have answered the seven questions and registered, the "Europe Talks" algorithm will put you in contact with another European who holds differing opinions.

In November we will introduce you to your discussion partner. After both of you have agreed to the debate, you can establish email contact and set up your video chat, scheduled for 3pm on December 13.

Virtual event on December 13

In mid-December, French, Italian, Greek, Slovakian, German and Swedish people who have never met before will gather to talk. For many of them, this will be a unique opportunity to discuss the major cross-border issues of our time.

How do we want to live with the pandemic in the long term? And what might a European response to this crisis look like? If the coronavirus crisis has prevented Europeans from circulating and meeting freely, December 13 will be an opportunity to recreate a space for dialogue and discussion.

More than 16,000 participants in 2019

Europe Talks was created three years ago by the prominent German news magazine Zeit Online. Last year's event was a great success, with more than 16,000 people registering for discussions on stricter border controls, climate protection and migration policy in Europe with other Europeans. At the time, thousands of Europeans travelled to meet their discussion partners. And more than 500 people gathered for a large event organRead More – Source

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Danish submarine killer Madsen arrested after failed prison escape

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Danish Peter Madsen, sentenced to life in jail for the murder of journalist Kim Wall aboard his homemade submarine in 2017, was arrested on Tuesday after a failed prison escape bid led to a standoff with police.

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"Peter Madsen tried to escape," a Copenhagen police official told AFP. Police confirmed on Twitter that Madsen had been "arrested and removed from the scene" after being surrounded by police officers, with unconfirmed reports he had threatened them with an explosive device.

Danish tabloid BT reported Madsen had taken a hostage and threatened prison staff with a pistol-like object to force his way out of the facility.

It quoted witnesses who said he managed to drive away in a white van before police stopped him.

Tabloid Ekstra Bladet released footage showing a man resembling Peter Madsen sitting up against a fence surrounded by police forces at a distance. Other photos showed Madsen sitting next to a road a few hundred metres from the prison, with two police officers lying prone on the ground pointing their weapons at him.

Police later said the operation, taking place less than a kilometre from the prison where Madsen is serving his sentence, was over and that the man under arrest had been taken away.

Madsen, a 49-year-old submarine enthusiast, was convicted in April 2018 of murdering, sexually mutilating and dismembering the 30-year-old journalist Kim Wall as she interviewed him on board his submarine in August 2017, in a Copenhagen harbour.

In a documentary that aired in September, he confessed for the first time to the killing, after having insisted during the trial that her death was an accident.

"There is only one who is guilty, and that is me," Madsen said in the documentary.

In a case that made headlines around the world, Madsen had however admitted to the court that he chopped up her corpse and threw her body parts into the sea.

‘Pathological liar’

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Trump and Biden town halls

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Biden is set to appear in an ABC town hall, and both events are scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. The two were originally scheduled to participate in a second debate, but the event was eventually canceled after Trump objected to the virtual format announced by the Commission on Presidential Debates in light of Trump's positive coronavirus diagnosis."The event is set to take place outdoors and in accordance with the guidelines set forth by health officials, also consistent with all government regulations," Hoda Kotb said on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday.National Institutes of Health Clinical Director Clifford Lane said in a statement to NBC News that they have concluded, via PCR test analysis, "with a high degree of confidence" that Trump is "not shedding infectious virus."The event will be moderated by Savannah Guthrie, who will sit 12 feet from the President. Attendees will be required to wear face masks.Trump's decision last week to back out of the second debate led to Biden and ABC swiftly announcing their plans to hold a town hall, and shortly thereafter, TruRead More – Source

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No Brexit trade deal could cost reeling UK economy $25 billion next year

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The British economy has been pummeled by the pandemic. Now, with talks on a new trade deal with the European Union at risk of collapse, Johnson has to decide: Does he try to find common ground with Europe, or walk away?Britain already faces a tough 2021 as the country battles the twin shocks of coronavirus and Brexit. But failing to secure an agreement with the United Kingdom's biggest export market would amplify the pain. Walking away empty-handed — which Johnson threatened to do on Friday — would create disruptions to trade when the transition period ends later this year, shaving more than $25 billion off the UK economy in 2021 compared to a scenario where a limited free trade deal is agreed, according to a CNN Business analysis based on forecasts from Citi and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That would put the country even further behind on its efforts to recover from the historic shock triggered by the pandemic."The combination of Covid-19 and the exit from the EU single market makes the UK outlook exceptionally uncertain," Laurence Boone, chief economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said in a report this week. "Actions taken to address the pandemic and decisions made on future trading relationships will have a lasting impact on the United Kingdom's economic trajectory for years to come."

Little progress on deal

The clock is ticking for the United Kingdom and the European Union to come to terms, with Britain set to lose its favorable trading status with the bloc at the end of December.Meetings this week concluded without any major breakthroughs, and Johnson said Friday that the country should prepare for a trading relationship that resembles Australia's. Australia does not have a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union. Most trade is conducted under more basic World Trade Organization rules.Given that Brussels has "refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months," Johnson said, "now is the time for our businesses to get ready, and for hauliers to get ready, and for travelers to get ready" for a no-deal exit.Yet there may still be some hope for an agreement. Johnson stopped short of ruling out further talks, and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Friday that her team would head to London next week to intensify negotiations as previously planned.Fishing rights and the framework for resolving future disputes remain key sticking points for both sides, according to Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. "We don't think the deal will flounder on fish, but we do think the technical and political challenges it presents will be more difficult to overcome than many believe," Rahman said Thursday.Johnson had said that terms of the future trading arrangement needed to be hammered out by mid-October to give businesses enough time to plan for the outcome. That deadline has now come and gone.Rahman believes it's still in Johnson's best political interest to strike a deal, given the criticism of his management the Covid-19 crisis."As Johnson's government tears itself apart on coronavirus, the need for a political win, which only a deal can be, is greater than ever," he said.The United Kingdom has in recent days opted for a regional approach as its coronavirus cases spike, reimposing strict rules in Liverpool and barring people from different households from meeting indoors in London starting Saturday. That's led to criticism from both those worried about the impact on the economy, and those who believe dramatic national measures are necessary to keep the situation under control.

Businesses sound alarm

The confusion over where Read More – Source

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Azerbaijan, Armenia Trade Accusations Over New Attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh

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Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other Saturday of new attacks, further indications that violence has escalated in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in violation of a Russian-brokered truce that took effect a week ago.

Authorities in Azerbaijan said an Armenian missile attack on the city of Ganja killed at least 13 people and wounded 50 others in early hours of Saturday while Armenia accused Azerbaijan of more shelling.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said that the cities of Ganja and Mingachevir were hit with missiles fired from two locations in Armenia.

According to official sources in Azerbaijan, Saturday’s missile attacks destroyed at least 20 residential buildings in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city.

The Armenian defense ministry denied carrying out the strikes and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, including its largest city, Stepanakert.

The Armenian foreign ministry said three civilians were injured in a fire resulting from Azerbaijan’s attacks.

Armenia also accused Azerbaijan of flying drones over Armenian settlements, attacking military installations and damaging civilian infrastructure.

The ongoing fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted Sept. 27 and has killed hundreds of people, marking the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh since a 1994 cease-fire.

The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war that claimed the lives of as many as 30,000 people before a 1994 cease-fire. However, that independence is not internationally recognized.

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Finger Pointed at Swiss Yodeling Concert as COVID Superspreader Event

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GENEVA – The coronavirus pandemic has not deterred the Swiss from sending yodels echoing across their mountain valleys, but a concert attended by 600 people is believed to have made one canton a European virus hot spot.

At the late September yodeling event in the rural Schwyz canton, people in the audience were asked to maintain social distancing, but mask-wearing was not required.

“We can’t do anything about what happened with this yodeling group. We found out nine days after the performances that several people from the group were infected,” event organizer Beat Hegner told RTS public television.

Now the pandemic has spread through the region, with 1,238 cases compared with just 500 in mid-September.

On Wednesday alone, 94 people tested positive, twice as many as the day before.

The overloaded cantonal hospital has asked people to begin wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.

‘Explosion’ in cases

“There’s an extremely high rate of positive tests. We’ve gone from 30% to 50%,” hospital chief Franziska Foellmi said.

“It’s time we reacted. The explosion in the number of cases in Schwyz is one of the worst in all of Europe,” chief doctor Reto Nueesch posted online.

Cantonal authorities have stepped up infection control measures, making mask-wearing compulsory at all public and private events with more than 50 people and in situations where distancing can’t be maintained.

But people can still go to the shops without covering their noses and mouths.

Switzerland isn’t the only country to practice yodeling, an age-old style of singing where the performer rapidly switches between registers.

It’s also practiced in Austria’s Tyrol region and in variant forms across the mountains of central Europe, from Poland to Romania.

Like archery, wrestling and the Alpine games, yodeling has been one of the building blocks of common identity between Switzerland’s culturally disparate regions since the 19th century.

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In Lithuania, COVID-19 is a key election issue – but not in the way you might think

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Five years ago, Lithuania’s Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) was an obscure political party that struggled to reach the 5% threshold to qualify for seats in parliament. In 2016 it turned its one seat in the Lithuanian Seimas into 51, and became the Baltic country’s new government.

For the LFGU, the victory was part of a populist wave that swept global politics in 2016. From the Brexit referendum to the election of Donald Trump, genuine anger with politics-as-usual saw voters back causes and individuals that – for better or for worse – went against the grain.

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“People were getting fed up with the traditional political parties [and] their futile bickering,” Tomas Tomilinas, an LFGU MP, told Euronews.

“They were searching for new faces, and we were certainly them.”

Four years on and the LFGU again faces an election in Lithuania on Sunday, this time as well-known faces and amidst the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

But the picture for the party is mixed. On the one hand, prior to COVID-19 it was struggling in the polls and analysts in Lithuania were predicting that voters would punish it come the October 11 election. On the other, the COVID-19 pandemic may just have rescued LFGU fortunes.

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The Lithuanian government recently launched a €2 billion financial package to help businesses bounce back from the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, while the European Commission earmarked €602 million for Lithuania in loans. Much of that cash has found its way into the pockets of voters, who are thankful to the government, and to the LFGU.

“Their support hovered in single digits before the strike of COVID-19. It has been a disaster for most, but a true blessing for the farmers,” said Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of political science at Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius, referring to the LFGU.

Electoral success

For a long time, LFGU was looked down upon as a tiny regional party with a green, agricultural agenda. Its vociferous “no” campaign in the 2012 national plebiscite on building a new nuclear plant in the country – 62.6% voted against – did not translate into electoral success.

But by 2016, malaise had got hold of Lithuanian politics, dominated for decades by either the left-wing Social Democrats or the right-wing Homeland Union – Christian Democrats (HU-LCD).

A third party, the Lithuanian Liberal Movement, did have some electoral success but was devastated by the accusation – still in the country’s courts – that its leader took €106,000 in bribes in return for political influence in 2016. Other parties, including Electoral Action of Poles, represent a portion of Lithuanian voters, in this case, the Polish minority in the country.

In 2016, the LFGU vowed to upset the applecart, and since its victory has very much sung from the populist playbook. It has championed national identity, or ‘Lithuanianess’, and – like other right-wing parties in Europe, namely Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) – come out against LGBT rights in Lithuania, winning support with its conservative, rural and Christian base.

In the former campaign, it has had wins and losses. In 2018, the LGFU proposed that Lithuanian schoolchildren should have new uniforms adorned with national symbols including the country’s historical coat of arms. The plan, which coincided with the centenary of the declaration of the Lithuanian state in 1918, was ridiculed by opponents and promptly dropped.

Despite being, in name, a green party it has also shunned the rest of Europe’s green movement, opting out of the European Green Party (EGP) bloc in the European Parliament in Brussels due to its support for LGBT rights.

Asked about this decision, Tomilinas told Euronews: “We want a closer relationship with the Greens in Brussels, and we discussed the intention to have a formal membership to the European Green Party (EGP).”

“But first we need to put our house in order first. At the moment we still have different views and opinions between strategic actors in the party. We talk about integrating to the European family when we have yet to integrate properly our own.”

Critics say that the LFGU has little coherent political agenda, other than pandering to voters outside of the cities with both their political stance – nationalist, traditionalist and Christian – as with their policies, which include generous handouts to pensioners, a reduction of the cost for drugs bought in pharmacies and the establishment of a state bank

“They never had a clear programme, nor vision how to manage [the] state. But they’ve been playing the populist card from scratch – quite successfully,” said Vytautas Bruveris, chief correspondent and analyst at the daily Lietuvos Rytas.

“[Their policies] reverberate very well with swathes of Lithuania’s population.”

At the top of the LFGU political tree is Ramunas Karbauskis, the multi-millionaire owner of Agrokoncernas, one of the largest agricultural groups in Lithuania. As well as a business tycoon, Karbauskis is something of a celebrity, having written and produced a wildly popular TV series Naisių vasara, based on stories from the village where he was born.

As elsewhere in Europe – including Hungary and Poland – the rise of Lithuania’s populists has come alongside attacks on both the press and the judiciary, said Andzeij Puksto, associate professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city.

“Having met resistance from all over, LFGU has shown some authoritarian signs. Let’s not forget that LFGU attempted to curtail rights of the national broadcaster (LRT),” Puksto said.

“In mimicking Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice party, LFGU has hinted of changes in our judicial system. I am afraid that, with the new mandate in their hands, they can swerve to the realisation of their authoritarian tendencies.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the LFGU’s fortunes is not just in the ability to be able to hand out billions of euros in bailout money to voters before election day. Lauras Bielinis, a Lithuanian political scientist and a professor at Vytautas Magnus University, said that the pandemic has resulted in an “inertia” ahead of the election amongst voters that plays into the LFGU’s hands.

“The health crisis has messed up everything and those who are promising more now are in a better position ahead of the elections,” he said.

Members of the Lithuanian opposition, unsurprisingly, go even further.

Simonas Gentvilas, a Liberal member of the Lithuanian parliament, said that the LFGU has “soaked” voters in COVID-19 fallout money and is now set to reap the benefits.

“Be it the medics who received their lavish pecuniary bonuses in the autumn, or the pensioners, who received their €200 pay-outs in the autumn. Not coincidentally. For me, this is a typical political bribing,” he told Euronews.

Indeed, economically Lithuania has fared far better than many of its neighbours during the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP contracting by just 3.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 year-on-year, less than previously expected and second only to Luxembourg in Europe. Business leaders, however, doubt that the LFGU can take credit for that.

“Many Lithuanian companies are producing niche-markets oriented production, which were less affected by the virus,” said Sigitas Besagirskas, president of the Vilnius Industry and Business Association.

Populists vs populists

There is a chance, say analysts, that the two major players prior to 2016 – the Social Democrats and the Conservatives could form an alliance after Sunday in order to bring down the LFGU government, but Dumbliauskas, at Mykolas Romeris University, said that the two rivals would have to “move mountains” in order to find enough common ground.

“The ideological divisions they have are just too stark to override. Importantly, at the end of the day, it is LFGU that would win from such a marriage,” he said.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge to the LFGU on Sunday — if no-one wins more than 50% of the vote on October 11, the two most popular parties will take part in a run-off election on October 25 — may not come from more established political parties or the opposition but from another upstart populist party, the Labour Party, despite its founder, multi-millionaire businessman and MEP Viktor Uspaskich, has been handed a four-year prison sentence for fraudulent bookkeeping in the party. A higher tier-court has exonerated him, however.

“I believe the party is the dark horse of the election,” Bruveris said.

“But I’d see nothing good from its win, as the party – like the farmers – have been populist since the very start.”

Every weekday at 1900 CEST, Uncovering Europe brings you a European story that goes beyond the headlines. Download the Euronews app to get an alert for this and other breaking news. It’s available on Apple and Android devices.

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Coronavirus: Masks made mandatory outdoors across Italy

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Italy has made it mandatory to wear face masks in outdoor spaces across the country in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

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Italians must also wear masks indoors everywhere except in private homes.

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Although Covid-19 cases are much lower in Italy than in many other European countries, there has been a steady rise in infections.

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Meanwhile, Germany reported a spike in its infection rate to more than 4,000 daily cases.

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Although this figure is lower than in many European countries, it is Germany’s highest number of cases in 24 hours since April. Testing has increased, however, so more cases are being recorded.

Germany has seen fewer than 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths so far, out of a population of 83 million. But new restrictions are being introduced, including a ban on people from high-risk regions staying in hotels in the rest of the country.

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What’s happening in Italy?

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said tougher measures were needed to avoid returning to an economically devastating lockdown in Italy.

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“From now on, masks and protective gear have to be brought with us when we leave our house and worn. We have to wear them all the time unless we are in a situation of continuous isolation,” he said.

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Masks must also be worn in shops, offices, on public transport, and in bars and restaurants when not seated at a table.

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The measures have already been put in place in some parts of Italy that have seen an increase in infections, such as Rome, but the latest announcement makes them nationwide.

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Italians were subject to some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world when the country became the first in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus earlier in the year.

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Although it has managed to keep the virus in check more successfully than many other European countries in recent months, cases in the last 24 hours have surged past the 3,000 mark for the first time since 24 April, registering 3,678 new infections, data from the health ministry shows.

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Italy also took action on Wednesday to stem the number of cases coming in from Europe, announcing compulsory testing for anyone travelling from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

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Elsewhere in Europe:

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  • The Czech Republic now has the highest number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days in the EU, overtaking Spain
  • Cases have also reached a record high in the Netherlands, with nearly 5,000 recorded in 24 hours
  • All pubs and restaurants across central Scotland – including in Glasgow and Edinburgh – are to be closed from Friday. England is considering similar measures in some regions
  • All bars and cafes in Belgium’s capital Brussels are closing for a month
  • In Paris, Covid-19 patients are taking up more than 40% of intensive care beds
  • Several other European countries – including Poland and Ukraine – have registered record daily infections

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