Germany, France prepare new lockdowns as COVID sweeps across Europe

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BERLIN / PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France were preparing to announce restrictions on Wednesday approaching the level of general lockdowns last spring, as COVID deaths in Europe rose nearly 40% in a week, while that the financial markets have fallen for fear of the likely economic costs.

FILE PHOTO: Unicorns are on display outside a downtown store ahead of an orderly lockdown due to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pfarrkirchen, Germany October 26, 2020. REUTERS / Andreas Gebert

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to meet state prime ministers on a conference call to discuss closing restaurants and bars, but keeping schools and nurseries open, while allowing people to go out in public only with members of their own household.

In France, which has seen more than 50,000 new cases a day, President Emmanuel Macron will deliver a televised speech in the evening and is expected to announce new movement restrictions following curfew measures introduced across much of the country. last week.

News broadcaster BFM TV reported that the government was considering a one-month lockdown starting at midnight Thursday, but there was no confirmation from Macron’s office.

The measures, following similar measures in Italy and Spain, are expected to leave schools and most businesses operating and would be less severe than the near-total lockdowns imposed at the start of the crisis in March and April.

But the economic cost could be heavy, erasing the fragile signs of recovery observed during the summer and suggesting a double-dip recession. European stock markets hit their lowest levels since June on Wednesday as the euro fell against the dollar.

As leaders desperately wanted to avoid the crushing cost of lockdowns, the new measures reflect growing concern 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.

VACCIN HOPES DENTED

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 European Commission has called on European governments to step up their response and coordinate screening strategies and said there is still time to contain the disease.

“The situation is very serious, but we can still slow the spread of the virus if everyone takes responsibility,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference.

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.

The United States, which has recorded more than 500,000 cases in the past week, has seen record daily infections and, while many countries in Asia have largely brought the disease under control, China reported 42 new cases on Tuesday, its highest daily toll in more than two months.

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.

As surveys in several countries show many want tight controls to stop the spread of the disease, the general climate of public support for governments seen in the first wave of the pandemic has increasingly evaporated.

Governments across Europe have been criticized for a lack of coordination and for failing to take advantage of a lull over the summer to beef up defenses, leaving hospitals unprepared and forcing people to use public transport. common crowded to get to work.

“The relaxation of measures applied during the summer months has not always been accompanied by measures to strengthen a sufficient response capacity,” the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Italy, which has pledged more than 5 billion euros ($ 5.9 billion) in new measures to support businesses affected by the latest restrictions, has seen repeated clashes between police and protesters in towns of Naples to Turin as well as harsh reviews from restaurateurs and business groups. .

As similar measures are imposed elsewhere, business groups have sounded the alarm bells.

The German BGA, a pressure group for the service sector, said closing restaurants would inflict a “death blow” on many businesses and called instead for tougher measures to limit contagion in homes.

Reports from Reuters offices; Written by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie and Hugh Lawson

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