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The European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Western Germany The European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Western Germany  (AFP or licensors)

Top European economies in lockdown as virus spreads

Two of Europe's biggest economies are reinstating some form of national lockdown. France and Germany's measures are due to be followed in other nations as authorities warn of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.

By Stefan J. Bos

During a turbulent session in the Bundestag, Germany's Parliament. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germans to expect a "difficult winter."

Merkel explained that she and the governors of Germany's 16 states agreed upon new, far-reaching restrictions to curb the coronavirus's spread.

Chancellor Merkel says the nation faces a dramatic situation at the beginning of the cold season in Germany. But she warns of populist views against the lockdown measures calling them irresponsible."

Under the restrictions starting Monday, restaurants, bars, sports, beauty parlors and cultural venues will be shut for four weeks.

Groups of at most ten people, from a maximum of two households, will be allowed to meet in public. And all non-essential journeys will be discouraged. Churches, schools, and kindergartens will remain open, compared to the more severe shutdown Germany saw in March and April.

Many infections

Since the outbreak began this year, authorities and experts recorded nearly half a million COVID-19 infections and over 10,000 deaths on a population of some 80 million people.

Ahead of Germany, neighboring France prepared to resume life under a new lockdown. From Friday, people in France will only be allowed to leave home for essential work or medical reasons.

President Emmanuel Macron said the country risked being "overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first."

"I have decided that it was necessary to return Friday to a lockdown that stopped the virus," he added in televised remarks.

He said that under regulations for France, "nurseries schools, and high schools will remain open with strengthened sanitary protocols. Faculties and high education establishments must ensure online lessons. And everywhere possible, remote working will become generalized."

Broader concerns

Germany and France's measures underscore broader concerns in the European Union and Britain about the raging virus.

The president of the EU's executive European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested that Europe will have a different Christmas this year. "We have been able in the first part of the year to reduce the spread of the virus effectively. But then we see that after the summer, the increase took place again partly expansionary," she explained. However, "Now we can act with the experience of the first half of the year. So we will be in this for quoite a while," Von der Leyen added.    

The EU is coordinating plans for a possible vaccine, but distribution may take time. Italy, Spain, France, and Britain were among the worst-hit European nations, imposing strict national lockdowns.

Some experts claim that this brought cases, hospital admissions, and deaths down to a very low level over time, but critics point out it ravaged economies.

Restrictions started to lift in the early summer, with non-essential shops, bars, restaurants reopening, and travel restarting. But in August, cases began to rise again, with a significant acceleration in recent weeks that has alarmed policymakers.

Aggressive action

Some experts have urged the Spanish government to take more aggressive action to curtail the latest infections there.

Countries that were not hit badly by the first wave - such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland - have not been spared this time. Officials warn of alarming infection rates across much of the continent.

Although for most people, COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill.

More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
29 October 2020, 18:44