France imposed a curfew in Paris and other major cities and Germany warned of the economic risks of the pandemic, as Europe’s leaders intensified efforts to stem an unrelenting surge in coronavirus cases.
President Emmanuel Macron will confine residents of nine of the country’s biggest cities to their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. for four weeks starting on Saturday. The extraordinary step was part of a battery of new measures to contain the spread, as rising infections begin to fill up hospital beds.
“This virus is dangerous and serious for everyone,” Macron said during a televised interview on Wednesday. “We are at a stage where we need to react.”
At the same time as Macron’s announcement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was struggling to forge a consensus with state leaders, taking a more piecemeal approach in a meeting that dragged on for more than eight hours.
“Economically we can’t afford a second wave with the same consequences as we had in the spring,” Merkel said, mainly appealing to citizens to abide by hygiene and distancing rules and avoid groups. “What we do and don’t do in the coming days and weeks will be key to the question of how we make it through this pandemic.”
European authorities are grappling with how to devise curbs that slow the spread of the disease without resorting to national lockdowns, which decimated economic activity in the second quarter. The delicate balancing act was evident when the French government advocated for people to book October holidays, even with big cities closing bars and restaurants early to contain the disease.
The varying standards have caused confusion and stoked unrest amid the pandemic-weary public, especially amid low hospitalization and death rates — which are steadily rising. With stringent limits on movement still taboo, leaders have little recourse but to implore people to knuckle down.
“We must stop this curve and to do so there is no better way than to respect the rules,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said. “If the number of infected people, and the number of people in hospitals, and especially in intensive care grows, we will be in trouble again.”
Italy, which had avoided the severe outbreaks seen elsewhere, reported a record increase in new cases on Wednesday. The government last week reimposed the mandatory use of masks outdoors and this week added new curbs on nightlife, social events and amateur sports.
European infections began a resurgence in the late summer, fueled by returning travelers and young party-goers. Local family, work and social gatherings have since spurred further contagion.
The region as a whole recorded almost 700,000 new cases last week, the most since the pandemic began, and taking the total to just below 7 million, according to the World Health Organization. Britain, France, Russia and Spain accounted for over half of all new cases, the report said.
New French Restrictions
- Traffic during curfew hours is restricted to emergencies, people working
- Fines range from 135 euros to 1,500 euros
- Current rule for mask wearing remains in place
- Gatherings should be limited to six people
- Restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, theaters are closed after 9 p.m.
- The alarming increase in cases have spurred a flurry of new restrictions across the region.
Northern Ireland will introduce some of the harshest measures, including closing schools, bars and restaurants, the U.K. region’s power-sharing executive agreed Wednesday. Ireland will end household visits, and a number of districts close to the border will move to a so-called Level 4 lockdown.
Slovenia will shut schools above 5th grade from Monday. Further restrictions will apply to the seven hardest hit regions, including the capital Ljubljana, where the government will restrict public gatherings to 10 people, impose mandatory masks at most public spaces and close down some services from Friday.
Portugal, which reported a record increase in infections on Wednesday, tightened the limit on gatherings in public areas to five people from 10, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said. Catalonia, Spain’s largest region by population, ordered that bars and restaurants can only serve take away for the next 15 days.
Despite the latest measures, there’s little evidence they’re working. Instead, the hodge podge of restrictions is causing uncertainty among businesses and consumers, Germany’s BDI industry lobby said on Wednesday.
Europe’s largest economy, which had performed better in the crisis than many others in the region, is struggling to keep its revival going as fears grow over rising infections, the country’s five leading economic research institutes said.
New cases in Germany jumped to 6,541 on Tuesday, close to the levels seen during the peak, though they fell back again to 4,464 in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Germany’s Latest Measures: In hard-hit areas
- Bars and restaurants to be shut down at 11 p.m.
- Use of masks in public will be extended
- Gatherings limited to 100 people, contact to 10 people
- Quarantine from foreign risk areas 10 days from Nov. 8, cut short after 5 days with negative test
- Government to extend aid to businesses affected by pandemic
France had shown signs of rebounding quickly in May, but as virus cases began to rise in late summer, surveys showed confidence fading and activity in several sectors running well below pre-crisis levels.
The country’s statistics agency said earlier this month it expects the economic expansion to grind to a halt in the final months of the year. A prolonged tightening of health restrictions could even tip the economy back into recession, it said.
The pace of cases jumped to more than 17,000 a day from less than 12,000 a week ago, and more than 40% of intensive-care beds in the Paris region are taken by Covid-19 patients.
Macron said the situation in French hospitals is “unsustainable” and the goal is to bring new cases down to 3,000 to 4,000 a day.
“We are learning how to be a nation again,” Macron said in the interview. “We had become used to being individuals. But we are a united nation, and we will succeed.”
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