Behind the pleas hides a brutal and unwelcome message that has since echoed throughout Europe: The daily small pleasures of community life – pleasures willingly and remunerately sacrificed during spring lockdowns – may soon have to be given up. new.
Whether described as a second wave, a continuation of the first, or simply an eruption of local epidemics, the number of people infected with Covid-19 in recent days across the continent has climbed to the highest level in months.
Coronavirus clusters have emerged in Spain, Belgium, Germany, France and Luxembourg, among others. This has often left politicians divided over how to react at a time when their constituents are clamoring for vacations and their savings desperately need the return of tourists.
Last week, the deputy director of the Spanish health emergency center noted that the incidence of the virus had tripled in just over a fortnight and that “it could already be a second wave”.
The country’s health minister, Salvador Illa, was more cautious. While admitting that the situation in the northeastern regions of Catalonia and Aragon was worrying, he said new outbreaks were detected early, adding that 70% of them involved less than 10 cases.
“That’s why, in my opinion, we can’t talk about a second wave of cases,” Illa said this week.
Despite all the definition bickering, which has been heard across Europe as infection rates soar, such assurances have not been enough for the UK government – and indeed for others.
A UK de facto ban on travel to Spain, announced on Saturday and expanded on Monday to include the Canaries and Balearics, will deprive Spain’s tourism sector of several of the millions of Britons who make up one-fifth of all visitors.
The UK government has followed up on a similar warning against travel to Luxembourg from where travelers will be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days.
German authorities on Friday added Catalonia and two other regions in northern Spain to a long list of risk areas. Belgium has been placed on a list of dangerous countries by the governments of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Norway.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, have warned residents to avoid the Flemish city of Antwerp, just across the Belgian-Dutch border. “Do not stop to rest or refuel,” warns the official government alarmingly.
It is divisive, appalling for those looking for a break, and could be the start of a new division of Europe between those deemed safe enough or not.
However, it may be different this time, virologists and politicians believe. While in March, when shutters were forced to close across Europe, there was insufficient knowledge about the virus or its spread, but governments and their science advisers are more informed now.
As of Thursday, there were 412 active epidemics in Spain, but it was clear that many of them were linked to bars, nightclubs and seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers, whose often terrible living and working conditions. make physical distancing impossible.
Governments and local authorities have sought to focus on problem areas. The Catalan government, which has already ordered the area’s nightclubs to close for a fortnight, has asked young people to behave responsibly and has threatened fines of up to € 15,000 (£ 13,504) for them. people who engage in large bottles, or big street parties.
His regional counterpart in Madrid ordered bars and clubs to close at 1.30am and announced an ‘immunity card’ system before making a quick turnaround after a reality check by experts. According to the Carlos III Institute in Madrid, 40% of new cases concern people under the age of 40 and 55% of them are asymptomatic.
In Belgium, the doubling of infections in Antwerp in one week is also partly attributable to the city’s vibrant student nightlife. A curfew from 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., the first in the city since World War II, has been imposed.
Some confidence is also drawn from the fact that it is young people who are now infected. “This should translate into fewer intensive care patients and fewer deaths, and it should ease the pressure on hospitals a bit,” said Steven Callens, infectious disease expert at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium.
Virologist Marc Van Ranst, who sits on the Belgian National Security Council, said: “We now know the virus better and we test better. The difference between the number of positive tests and the number of hospitalizations is now much greater. ”
In Germany, the number of daily cases has hovered between 600 and 900 – far from the 6,500 seen each day in March, but enough to cause alarm.
But, again, the experience of the past few months could still count for a lot, said Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at the University of Hamburg.
“General practitioners know what to do if a case is suspected, the intensive care units are well prepared, the laboratory capacity for testing is good, at around 1.2 million weeks,” he said. he told Der Spiegel. Additionally, Schmidt-Chanasit added, the general public is better informed about the virus than it was initially.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex said shutting down the country again after the strict two-month lockdown between March and May would be “catastrophic”.
“The priority remains prevention,” Castex told Nice Matin. “Even though the number of [confirmed] cases started to increase, positive tests remain in low averages compared to those in neighboring countries. And the number of hospitalizations remains under control ”.
Officials said any new lockdowns would most likely be located where there are outbreaks. Or, as Castex puts it, “We will adapt.”
Some young people feel unfairly denounced by the authorities.
“I think blaming the young is the easiest option for the government when it comes to finding new scapegoats for Covid-19 control issues,” said Martí Pont, a recent biology graduate of Barcelona. “But the truth is, we’re all trying to cope with the ‘new normal’ that none of us are prepared for.
Adarra Solas, a 21-year-old dancer also from Barcelona, agreed that the post-lockout scenes we’ve witnessed so far were nothing if not predictable.
“I think they are accusing us of shirking responsibility,” she said. “It was obvious that the young people were going out, drinking and having fun after the months that we have been through. But when I look around I see young and older people walking around without masks, not wearing them on public transport, or not following safety instructions. ”
“Summer has come and we all started to relax,” Solas added. But if European governments warn of anything, that’s the danger.