“We are in the second wave,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. “I think Christmas this year will be a different Christmas.”
The European Union, Britain, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland alone accounted for 1.1 million cases in the past seven days, she said, “and we expect that. that number will continue to increase over the next two to three weeks, and rapidly.
German officials have agreed to a four-week closure of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters and other leisure facilities in a bid to curb the sharp rise in coronavirus infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and relaxing the restrictions, agreed to a partial lockdown during a video conference. It is expected to come into effect on Monday and last until the end of November.
Merkel said: “We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency.”
Restaurants will still be allowed to serve take-out. Shops and schools must remain open, unlike Germany’s closure during the first phase of the pandemic.
The move came hours after Germany’s disease control agency said a record 14,964 new confirmed cases were recorded nationwide in the past day, bringing the national pandemic total at 449,275.
In France, more than half of the country’s intensive care units are already occupied by COVID-19 patients. French military and commercial planes are transporting critically ill patients to other areas as hospitals fill up and French doctors have called on the government to impose a new national lockdown.
President Emmanuel Macron announced a second national lockdown from Friday, but said schools will remain open.
France reported 288 new virus-related deaths in hospitals in 24 hours on Tuesday and 235 deaths in nursing homes in the previous four days. The two figures marked the biggest increase of their kind since May.
“(France has been) overwhelmed by a second wave,” Macron said in a nationwide televised speech on Wednesday.
“Nothing is more important than human life,” he added, noting that France currently has one of the highest rates of coronavirus in Europe.
“We have 40,000 to 50,000 new contaminations identified every day,” he said.
The government is expected to lay out the details of the new lockdown on Thursday.
Overall, Europe has recorded more than 250,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the epidemic, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the Czech Republic also saw an increase in the number of new cases in the past 14 days, while infection rates in Germany were lower but constantly increasing.
Merkel had urged the governors of the country’s 16 states to quickly agree to a partial lockdown. After clearing the move, the Chancellor called on people not to make unnecessary trips and said hotels would not be able to accommodate people on tourist trips.
“We can say that our healthcare system can meet the challenge today,” said Merkel. “But if the rate of infections continues like this, we will reach the limits of what the healthcare system can handle in a matter of weeks.”
The planning has caused angst in the German hospitality industry, with thousands of room owners staging a protest at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Wednesday to demand additional financial support from the government.
The loud but peaceful rally contrasted with angry scenes of the past few days, when anti-mask protesters clashed with police in the German capital, several Italian cities and the Czech Republic.
In Italy, the mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, spoke out on Wednesday against a lockdown in the Lombard capital, the epicenter of the new resurgence of the virus in Italy.
Von der Leyen, the head of the EU, acknowledged the growing consequences of the continuing crisis.
“This time we have two enemies,” she said. “The coronavirus itself and corona fatigue is the growing weariness when it comes to precautionary measures.”
Von der Leyen, however, insisted that “now is not the time to relax”.
In Prague, protesters wearing horror masks marched against viral restrictions on Wednesday as the Czech Republic holds the grim European record of nearly 1,450 cases per 100,000 population in the past fifteen weeks, followed closely by Belgium, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
The Czech health ministry said the daily increase in new infections in the country hit a record 15,663 people on Tuesday – more than what was reported on Wednesday in Germany, which has eight times the population.
The Czech government has tightened its regulations further, imposing a nationwide curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., which began on Wednesday. It previously restricted free movement, closed shops, schools and restaurants, made it mandatory to wear face masks indoors and outdoors, and banned athletic competitions, but the number of infections continued to rise .
While Germany has behaved better than many European countries during the pandemic, officials there warn it is also starting to lose control of the situation and cite the explosion of cases in the Czech Republic as a reason for lockdowns earlier.
Economists said the additional restrictions had to be carefully calibrated to avoid dealing a second blow to businesses.
“A nationwide foreclosure, as we’ve seen, ravages an economy and would add significant complications to the ongoing economic recovery,” said Fiona Cincotta, analyst at online trading firm GAIN Capital.
But Thomas Gitzel, chief economist for Liechtenstein’s VP Bank Group, said a temporary lockdown could be less harmful than a prolonged decline in consumer spending, as infection levels remain stubbornly high.
“You don’t have to be a virologist to conclude that, without additional restrictions, the number of new daily infections is likely to increase,” Gitzel said, adding that a short, strict lockdown could be effective. “The strict containment measures in March and April laid the foundation for an economically successful summer.”
In France, there was some understanding of the difficult choices the government faced.
“I do not blame the government for having thought before taking decisions that will have serious consequences in many areas such as health, education and the economy,” said Parisian Gilles Weinzaepflen.
“These are not easy decisions to make,” he added. “I’m more unhappy with political controversies, because I think this is not the time for that, this is the time to stick together and find solutions that are less painful for people.”