BRUSSELS – France announced a second nationwide lockdown, and Germany moved to one edge on Wednesday, testing its epidemic-exhausted population as they tried to stem a new escalating wave of coronavirus infections from overwhelmed hospitals and undermine hopes for an economic recovery.
The new measures came on the heels of tough new restrictions in other European countries, from Belgium to Italy to the Czech Republic. While they often failed to complete spring lockdowns – “light lockdown”, as the Germans called it – they raised the specter of a dark winter of relative confinement, leaving leaders in Paris and Berlin pleading with their frustrated audiences to follow new laws.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday in a patriotic address: “I know tiredness and this feeling of a day without end that overcomes us all.” We must remain united and remain united, and not succumb to the poison of division. This period is difficult precisely because it tests our resilience and our unity. ”
Emphasizing the need for urgent action, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew hard lessons learned over the past eight months, in an effort to keep the parts of the economy and daily life deemed necessary or less risky, open, with nearly everything else closed. Which course is more difficult He risked stirring up a popular revolt.
The epidemic surge and new lockdowns hit stock markets in Europe, as in the United States, where major indices fell nearly 3 percent on Wednesday.
Starting Friday, France will enter a nationwide lockdown with only essential schools and businesses remaining open until December 1, while in Germany, new measures will close restaurants, bars, gyms and cultural spaces such as theaters for one month, but will exempt schools and shops.
Just months ago, when Italy became the first European country To impose a nationwide lockdown in March, the restrictions on freedom stunned Europeans who have seen nothing like it since World War II. But curfews and detention have since become a regular, albeit intermittent, feature of life in Europe, which I used to overcome the virus before the summer, and then loosened it, which led to the emergence of the second wave of infection.
The rise in the virus toll has made clear that the path for European governments is shrinking rapidly, and that they can no longer delay the reimposition of some of the tougher measures, especially if they want to save any part of the winter holiday season.
Spain returned to a state of emergency last week, while the Italian government moved on Sunday to close restaurants by 6 pm. And in Belgium, which currently has the highest infection rate on the continent, restaurants closed this month, followed by museums and gyms around the clock. weekend.
But this second wave differs from the first in important ways. Unlike the spring lockdowns, the new batch of measures will not be open. Most of the recent restrictions announced in European countries have been in place for about a month, which scholars and policymakers believe could act as a “circuit breaker”.
And while hospitals are filling at an alarming rate, the mortality rate for this wave is much lower than the first, due to the lower average life of patients and better treatment protocols for those hospitalized.
However, many Europeans are exhausted, both emotionally and financially, due to the new restrictions on their freedoms after having tasted unimpeded movement during the summer.
“We are dealing with two enemies: We are dealing with Corona virus itself and Corona fatigue,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as she reveals new plans to combat the virus in the European Union. “People are tired of these measures,” she added.
The epidemiological situation on the continent is dire. The rate of new infections in Europe has tripled in the past month, exceeding 200,000 per day.
France, Spain, Italy and Britain are among the European countries that have reported spikes in – and in – new cases of infection The highest death toll in months. France this week recorded its highest daily death toll since April, while Italy and the United Kingdom recorded their highest rate since May.
In France, where the toughest measures were announced Wednesday, 288 new deaths linked to the virus were reported in hospitals on Tuesday and 235 deaths in nursing homes over the previous four days.
France’s intensive care unit beds were half full, and virus spread modeling indicates that the country’s health care system was two weeks away from reaching the same number of hospitalizations as the peak of the first wave. Mr. Macron stressed that most of Europe faced a similar situation, “engulfed by a second wave that we now know may be more difficult and deadly than the first.”
Most non-essential businesses in France – including bars and restaurants – will be closed and movement outside the home will be severely limited. Private and public gatherings will be prohibited. But the schools will remain open. Some economic activities will continue – public services, factories, farms, and construction sites – and restrictions on visits to retirement homes and burials will not be as stringent as they were in the spring.
In Germany, restaurants and bars will be closed for a month from Monday, professional sports teams will play in empty stadiums, while theaters, gyms, nail salons and spas will be closed. But Chancellor Merkel said on Wednesday that supermarkets, department stores, schools and day care centers would remain open.
Ms Merkel, who has overseen a wide range of stimulus measures to support struggling businesses and workers, said the government will compensate small and medium-sized businesses affected by the closures with up to 75 percent of losses.
The measures aim to relieve pressure on state hospitals, as the number of patients doubled in just 10 days, and to stop the rapid spread of the virus before the upcoming holidays, without stopping the economy completely.
Ms Merkel laughed when she predicted last month that if people did not change their behavior, the country would face 19,000 infections per day by Christmas. Now, it looks like that number will be reached in November.
“Within weeks, we will reach the limits of our health system,” Merkel said at a press conference after agreeing with Germany’s 16 rulers on national measures.
“The choice was made carefully, knowing that it will be difficult and knowing that many people have developed ways to stay safe and act responsibly,” she said. “But when deciding how to reduce the number of contacts, without affecting the economy and schools, we have made these decisions and believe they are politically reasonable and acceptable.”
While the chancellor held a video meeting with the governors on Wednesday, several thousand entertainment workers marched through the heart of Berlin, denouncing measures that have left them out of work since early March.
More people were protesting against the restrictions, and Ms Merkel admitted introducing new measures two weeks earlier would have helped, but political acceptance of such a move was not there.
“Look at the protests and the lack of understanding that is there,” she said. “We must be ready to defend these measures, even in the courts.”
The tightening measures in Germany and France, the two leading countries in the region, came after several other countries approached new lockdowns over the past few weeks, and in some cases faced a backlash.
The Italian government’s announcement of new restrictions this week – ordering restaurants to close early, and shutting down cinemas, gyms and theaters for a month – was quickly met with protests. Starting in Naples, protesters set off fireworks, burned garbage bins, and clashed with police before protests spread to other cities, including Rome and Milan.
In a square in downtown Turin on Tuesday, peaceful protesters laid white linens with plates, cutlery and glasses of wine on the cobblestones and sat in silence.
Belgium, which suffered badly in the first wave, this week became the European country with the highest infection rate in the second wave. Restaurants, bars and cafes closed, new measures over the weekend closed cultural centers, museums and gyms, and imposed a curfew from 10 pm-6am.
The Czech Republic, which appeared to have escaped the ravages of the Corona virus in the spring, It quadrupled Issues burden in October, filling hospitals to the limit. The average daily death toll rose over the past week to one of the highest in the world.
“What happened was somehow expected, but no one expected its scope,” said Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, after announcing the second national lockdown.
Officials also imposed a curfew on Wednesday that would restrict movement after 9 pm and they asked mets the European Union and NATO allies To send medical staff to help curb the outbreak.
Peter Piot, a well-known infectious disease expert, said that although frightening and disastrous, the new restrictions are inevitable, given the re-emergence of the epidemic.
He said: “In many countries, the situation is currently this way, with infection spreading throughout society, to the point where a degree of closure is definitely necessary to suppress the virus and save lives.”
Reporting was contributed by Aurelien Breeden in Paris, Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Gaia Pianigiani in Rome, Isabella Kwai in London and Hana de Goeij in Prague.