PARIS – Countries that had seen a summer respite from coronavirus outbreaks tracked swiftly rising numbers of new confirmed cases Monday, prompting fears among government leaders and health officials that months of hard-won progress would be lost in just days as vacationers return home.
New restrictions on leisure activities accompanied the final weeks of summer break in Europe. Hours-long traffic jams formed at the Croatia-Slovenia border over the weekend as Austrians trying to beat a midnight quarantine deadline rushed home from a favored coastal vacation spot.
With one goal in mind, the Italian government closed discos, required masks from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. anywhere people might gather and began testing all arriving travelers from Spain, Greece, Malta and Croatia.
“Our priority must be the reopening of schools in September in full safety,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. Italy's schools have been closed nationwide since early March.
France's two largest cities, Paris and Marseille, widened the areas where masks are required, and the French government sent riot police to the Marseille region to enforce the requirement.
The country's labor minister is planning negotiations for Tuesday on making masks mandatory in all workplaces and other employee safety measures. French government studies indicated that at least a quarter of new virus clusters that emerged from May 9 to Aug. 11 were linked to workplaces.
“We need a culture of masks, a culture of protective measures. We failed to deliver this clear message in the first wave,” Dr. Giles Pialoux, the head of infectious diseases at Tenon Hospital in Paris, told France Inter radio on Monday. “We need strong and coherent messages. I think the strategy of fear does not work.”
In Greece, health officials attributed many new infections to wedding receptions and people ignoring social distancing and other public health protective measures while on vacation. Authorities began carrying out spot checks on ferry passengers returning to the mainland from the Greek islands amid growing concern of vacationers transporting the virus back to cities.