Covid-19 - EU

Belgium, Austria ban anti-lockdown protests, show of solidarity for Portugal

Anti-riot police block protesters during an unauthorised demonstration against COVID-19 restrictive measures in Brussels, Sunday, 31 January 2021.
Anti-riot police block protesters during an unauthorised demonstration against COVID-19 restrictive measures in Brussels, Sunday, 31 January 2021. AP - Francisco Seco
3 min

Austria and Germany have said they will provide help to Portugal, which is grappling with skyrocketing coronavirus cases, as some EU states banned demonstrations over Covid-19 restrictions amid unrest in Vienna, Brussels and Budapest. 

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Austria is to take patients from Portugal who need intensive care, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday, saying “swift, unbureaucratic help” was needed to save sick people, according to AP news agency. 

The German army will also send medical assistance and staff to Portugal to help deal with the country’s coronavirus outbreak, said military spokesperson Christoph Czwielung, adding that details were being finalised. 

Portugal has suffered more than 12,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins University, and is suffering from one of the world’s worst infection rates per capita. 

Protests banned 

Police in the Belgian capital Brussels detained scores of people on Sunday in a bid to prevent two banned demonstrations against measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are above 200 arrested at the moment," mainly around the rail stations in Brussels, a police spokesman said around midday.

Dozens of people, responding to calls on social media for protests against measures to check the coronavirus, also began gathering at the Atomium, a landmark building in Brussels.

In Vienna, thousands of protesters faced off with riot police at the site of a banned far-right Freedom Party demonstration against lockdown.

Austrian police banned several protests this weekend on the grounds that protesters have generally failed to observe rules on social distancing and often not worn face masks.

Austria went into its third national lockdown on 26 December, with non-essential shops and many other businesses still closed and staff without work. 

Hundreds also protested in Budapest on Sunday, with restaurant workers demonstrating against the forced closure of establishments. 

Current measures in Hungary include the closure of high schools, shuttering of cafes and restaurants, as well as nightly curfew, the Reuters news agency reported

Protesters say the anti-Covid measures are destroying businesses, and some 100 restaurants have said they plan to re-open, flouting the government’s measures. 

More than 12,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Hungary, with some 367,000 cases as of Sunday. 

Romania hospital fires 

In Bucharest, Romanians demonstrated on Saturday, calling for top officials to resign over a fatal fire at one of the country’s main hospitals treating coronavirus patients. 

The fire, which broke out on Friday, gutted the ground floor of the Matei Bals hospital in the capital, killing five people and forcing the evacuation of at least 100 patients. 

Three fires have hit hospitals in Romania in as many months, reported the AP news agency, with demonstrators blaming a lack of investment and government corruption. 

A fire at an intensive care unit treating Covid-19 patients in north Romania killed 10 people in November, while another fire at a psychiatric hospital in the same area killed one person in December. 

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