Countries across Europe are reimposing painful restrictions on public life as the number of coronavirus infections increases, fears the pandemic is tightening its grip, bringing closer to another public health emergency as winter approaches.
In Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, infections hit daily record levels on Thursday as France imposed an evening curfew on its largest city and Londoners faced new restrictions on social media at home.
The resurgence of the virus represents a major setback for a continent that has largely succeeded in reducing infection rates to manageable levels during the summer, after implementing strict lockdowns.
“Parts of Europe have lost control,” said Jonas Schmidt-Chanasset, a virologist at the Bernard Nocht Institute in Hamburg. “The authorities are no longer able to influence the spread of the virus.”
Germany, which has so far weathered the epidemic better than its neighbors, reported 6,600 new cases on Thursday – a new record. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said, “The decisive challenge we face – not only in Germany but in the whole of Europe – is whether we can break the second wave dynamic and reach calmer waters.”
The United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic unveiled new restrictions related to the virus this week.
Health systems across the continent are turning into crisis mode as hospital wards begin to fill up with Covid-19 patients. Fears are growing that medical facilities may soon be flooded and that the inflated volume of new cases could overwhelm tracking and tracing teams tasked with cutting the chains of transmission of the virus.
The head of the WHO Europe office welcomed the measures, describing them as “absolutely necessary” to save lives. “ The message to governments is: Feel free to take relatively small measures to avoid the excruciating and painful measures we saw in the First Report. [virus wave]Hans Kluge said.
Virus cases began to rise after European governments eased lockdowns over the summer to kick-start economies hard hit by the restrictions. But public health experts say Europeans are giving up their guard, spending their holidays abroad in large numbers, ignoring social distancing rules, and congregating in groups to eat, drink and socialize.
In the week ending October 11, Europe recorded its highest weekly number of Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic, with nearly 700,000 new cases, according to WHO statistics.
Europe imposes new lockdown measures
New cases per day: 18980
A three-tiered system was introduced to reduce the increase in infections
Socializing with other families at home in London will be prohibited
The strict lockdown measures are in northern cities such as Liverpool
Local lockdowns in parts of Scotland and Wales
Daily new cases: 6,638
Threshold of local closure restrictions cut
The power to limit gatherings and impose a curfew
Bars and nightclubs may be closed
Peter Altmire, Minister of Economics: The critical challenge is whether we can break the second wave dynamic
Governments have so far shied away from draconian measures such as school closures or re-imposing nationwide lockdowns, for fear of further damage to economies still struggling to emerge from the recession.
Instead, they ordered curfews, bars and restaurants close, and restrictions on social gatherings. But it remains unclear whether these limited measures will be sufficient to flatten the current curve.
France has taken some of the tougher measures, with the government re-imposing a state of emergency on Wednesday and President Emmanuel Macron declaring a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am in Paris and eight other large cities from Saturday.
He was responding to the steady increase in the number of injuries and hospitalizations in France in recent weeks. “Our intensive care wards are under unsustainable pressure,” Macron said.
French ministers said the aim of the restrictions was to curb private parties and gatherings among young people, which are believed to be among the biggest sources of the new infection.
In the United Kingdom, the authorities announced that Londoners would be banned from communicating with other families anywhere inland from midnight on Friday. Matt Hancock, the health minister, said infection rates have been on a “steep upward trajectory” in the capital and are doubling every 10 days. Liverpool, in the northwest of England, has already been placed under severe lockdown.
In the Netherlands, which has seen one of the worst infection rates over the past month, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Tuesday that the country is entering a “partial lockdown” for at least four weeks, with the number of new cases surpassing 7,000 a day.
All cafes, restaurants and bars have been closed and the government has made the wearing of masks mandatory in all public places and boarding schools.
The boom also affected countries that were relatively unaffected by the first wave, with the Czech Republic being a prime example. Nearly 10,000 new cases were reported on Thursday, the largest number since the start of the pandemic, and nearly half of all confirmed infections have been recorded in the country since the outbreak began in the past two weeks.
Painful chains return to public life
New condition per day: 22,591
Imposing a national “health emergency” to implement new measures
Strict curfews at 9 pm in major cities including Paris, Lille, Lyon, Montpellier and Toulouse
Violators are subject to fines of 135 euros, which go up to 1,500 euros for repeat offenders
New cases per day: 9,544
Bars, restaurants, cultural and sports facilities, as well as schools, are closed
Nearly half of all confirmed infections have been recorded since the pandemic began in the past two weeks
Prime Minister André Babis describes the increase in the number of cases as catastrophic
The Czech Republic went into strict lockdown early in the pandemic, but when the second wave struck, the authorities’ response was slow. Cases began to rise last month, but cultural and sports facilities were not closed until last week, while restaurants, bars and schools closed only on Wednesday.
Andrej Babis, the prime minister, who described the increase in cases as “catastrophic”, warned Thursday that time was running out in the Czech Republic to put healthcare infrastructure in place to deal with the increase. “We urgently need to build up a surplus capacity,” he said. “The outlook is not good.”
In Spain, where infections rose dramatically in August and September before apparently slowing down, a number of regions including Catalonia have unveiled new restrictions. Portugal also revealed new restrictions on public gatherings this week.
This week, German authorities lowered the threshold for taking more stringent measures at virus hotspots. This would allow the government to require the wearing of masks in public places, restrict the number of guests to private parties and the early closure of restaurants and bars.
Included in the coverage was Jay Chazan from Berlin, James Schutter from Warsaw, Daniel Dombe from Madrid, Victor Mallet from Paris and Mehren Khan from Brussels.