France, Germany lock in as second COVID-19 wave sweeps across Europe

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BERLIN / PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered their countries to be locked down on Wednesday as a second massive wave of coronavirus infections threatened to overwhelm Europe before winter.

Global stock markets plunged in response to news that Europe’s largest economies were imposing nationwide restrictions almost as severe as those that drove the global economy this year into its deepest recession in decades. generations.

“The virus is circulating at a speed that even the most pessimistic forecasts did not anticipate,” Macron said in a televised speech. “Like all of our neighbors, we are overwhelmed by the sudden acceleration of the virus.”

“We are all in the same position: invaded by a second wave which we know will be harder, more deadly than the first,” he said. “I decided we had to go back to the lockdown that stopped the virus.”

Under the new French measures that take effect on Friday, people will be required to stay at home except to buy essentials, see a doctor or exercise for up to an hour a day. They will be allowed to go to work if their employer deems it impossible for them to do homework. The schools will remain open.

As in the darkest days of spring, anyone leaving their home in France must now be provided with a document proving to be outside, which can be checked by the police.

Germany will close bars, restaurants and theaters from November 2 to 30 under measures agreed between Merkel and heads of regional governments. Schools will remain open and stores will be allowed to operate with strict access limits.

“We need to act now,” Merkel said. “Our healthcare system can still face this challenge today, but at this rate of infections, it will reach the limits of its capacity in a matter of weeks.”

Its Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, posted on Twitter: “November will be a month of truth. The growing number of infections is forcing us to take severe countermeasures to break the second wave. “

France has exceeded 36,000 new cases per day. Germany, which was less affected than its European neighbors earlier this year, has seen an exponential increase in cases.

In the United States, a new wave of infections set records six days before election day. President Donald Trump has played down the virus and shows no signs of canceling public gatherings where his supporters often refuse to wear masks or keep a safe distance.

European stock markets closed Wednesday at their lowest levels since late May. In the United States, the S&P 500 is down 3%.

In an effort to mitigate the economic impact, Germany will set aside up to 10 billion euros ($ 12 billion) to partially reimburse companies for lost sales. Italy has set aside more than 5 billion euros.

IF WE WAIT IT WILL BE TOO LATE

While leaders have desperately wanted to avoid the crushing cost of lockdowns, the new restrictions reflect alarm over the escalating pace of the pandemic from Spain, France and Germany to Russia, Poland and Bulgaria.

“If we wait until the intensive care units are full, it will be too late,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn, whose country has already received patients from its neighbor in the Netherlands, where hospitals have reached their limits.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said on Wednesday that hospital beds were 90% of their capacity in 16 regions of the country, while officials warned that even well-equipped health systems like those in France and Switzerland could reach a breaking point in a few days.

Hopes that new treatments could curb the spread were marred when the head of the UK vaccine procurement task force said a fully effective vaccine might never be developed and early versions would likely be flawed.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization showed on Tuesday that Europe reported 1.3 million new cases in the past seven days, almost half of the 2.9 million reported worldwide, with more of 11,700 deaths, a jump of 37% from the previous week.

So far, more than 42 million cases and more than 1.1 million deaths have been recorded worldwide from the virus, which was first identified in the city of Wuhan in central China. China, at the end of last year.

Governments across Europe have been criticized for a lack of coordination and for failing to use a lull in cases over the summer to bolster defenses, leaving hospitals unprepared.

Since the weekend, police and protesters have clashed several times in Italian cities from Naples to Turin. Restaurant owners and business groups have been critical.

“At 6 pm, public transport is often crowded. You take the risk because you have to get to work. You wear a mask, you take hand gel with you, ”Elio Venafro said after getting off a bus in central Rome on Wednesday. “It’s the new normal.”

Reports from Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graff and James Mackenzie; Edited by Nick Macfie, Hugh Lawson and Howard Goller

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