Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany is at a tipping point in Europe’s resurgent virus pandemic and France reported the most daily cases yet, signaling the potential for rising economic and human costs heading into the winter.
Record cases in many parts of Europe are stoking tension as governments increasingly restrict public life in major cities, where local officials are facing a lockdown-weary public. One focus is Spain, where the government declared a state of emergency for Madrid on Friday to curb outbound travel ahead of a long weekend.
France’s confirmed new cases rose by a record 20,339 on Friday and hospitalizations for Covid-19 are at the highest since early July, according to government data. In other signs of strain, leaders of Austria and a German region pledged to avoid closing their border and Dutch politicians are split over requiring face coverings. Germany is seeing the most infections in six months.
“The big cities and metropolitan areas are now the arena that will show whether we can keep the pandemic in Germany under control,” Merkel said in a video after talks with the mayors of Germany’s 11 biggest cities. “Now are the days and weeks that will decide how Germany heads into the winter.”
In the U.K., Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced further support for jobs in coronavirus hot spots and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said tighter restrictions for the capital are inevitable. Britain’s infections almost doubled in the week through Oct. 1, with an estimated 17,200 new cases a day.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said health services in Madrid have “a serious risk of being overwhelmed, and we haven’t reached winter yet.” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government decided on constraints for Madrid on Friday amid a power struggle with regional officials who have resisted the measures.
“We can sit with our arms crossed — or we can stop the virus,” Illa told reporters. “Measures must be taken to protect the health of people in Madrid and to avoid the levels of infections spreading to the rest of Spain.”
The state of emergency serves to block an outflow of people from Madrid for the long-weekend, with a Monday holiday in Spain — likely further fraying already strained nerves among residents.
Cases surged for a fourth consecutive day in Italy to almost 5,400 new infections, the most since late March. Almost every fifth reported new case was in Lombardy, the region that includes Milan, Italy’s financial hub and the epicenter of Europe’s early outbreak last winter.
The number of patients in intensive care rose by 29 to 387, about a tenth of the peak in April.
Cases in the Netherlands rose to a daily record of almost 6,000 and Prime Minister Mark Rutte said additional anti-pandemic measures are “inescapable” if there’s no change in daily virus numbers.
Rutte’s government last week ordered bars to close at 10 p.m. and banned spectators at sports events. Opposition parties are calling for a face-mask mandate for public indoor areas such as stores, bars and restaurants, which Rutte has opposed.
In the European Union, only Spain and the Czech Republic have reported more per-capita cases over the past two weeks.
Germany’s virus resurgence prompted concern by Ralph Brinkhaus, the leader of Merkel’s parliamentary caucus in Berlin, that lawmakers won’t return for in-person sessions at the end of the month.
Merkel said her goal is to avoid shutting down economic and public life “if at all possible,” appearing to soften her stance against a renewed lockdown.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he can’t rule out such a lockdown if measures to stem the country’s outbreak fail.
“We’re in a serious situation,” he told reporters. “The spread of the virus is communal, and it’s behaving differently than it did in spring.”
Austria, home to a ski resort blamed for an early “super-spreader” event last winter, sought to stave off possible quarantine requirements by Germany for tourists returning from Austria.
“Travel warnings are a big problem,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said after talks Friday with Markus Soeder, premier of the neighboring German region of Bavaria. “Open borders are extremely important for a functioning internal market.”
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