Germany and France put together new lockdowns as COVID sweeps Europe By Reuters

© Reuters. Unicorns can be seen outside a shop in the city center before they were ordered in Pfarrkirchen because of the further spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

By Andreas Rinke and Sudip Kar-Gupta

BERLIN / PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France prepared to announce restrictions on Wednesday approaching the level of blanket lockdowns last spring, as COVID deaths across Europe rose nearly 40% in one week while the financial markets fell on fears of the likely economic cost.

Chancellor Angela Merkel should hold a conference call with the prime ministers to discuss the closure of restaurants and bars, but keep schools and kindergartens open, while people are only allowed to go public with members of their own household.

In France, where more than 50,000 new cases have occurred every day, President Emmanuel Macron will give a televised address that evening and announce further restrictions on movement following the curfews that were introduced in much of the country last week.

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

Following similar measures in Italy and Spain, the measures are expected to leave schools and most businesses and be less stringent than the near-total bans that were put in place at the start of the crisis in March and April.

The economic cost is likely to be high, however, erasing the fragile signs of a summer rebound and increasing the prospect of a double-dip recession. European equity markets hit their lowest level since June on Wednesday as the euro fell against the dollar.

While leaders have been desperately trying to avoid the crippling cost of lockdowns, the new measures mirror the mounting alarm at the galloping 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 Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, whose country has already admitted patients from the Dutch neighbor, where hospitals have reached their limits.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said Wednesday that hospital beds are 90% occupied in 16 regions of the country, while officials have warned that even well-equipped health systems like those in France and Switzerland could hit the breaking point in a matter of days.

Vaccination hopes dented

Hopes that new treatments could stem the spread were dashed when the head of the UK’s Task Force on Vaccine Procurement said that a fully effective vaccine may never be developed and that early versions are unlikely to be perfect.

The European Commission urged European governments to step up their response and coordinate testing strategies, saying there was still time to hold back the disease.

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

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

Record infections were recorded daily in the United States, which has seen more than 500,000 cases in the past week. While many countries in Asia have largely got the disease under control, China reported 42 new cases on Tuesday, the highest daily number in more than two months.

To date, 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 central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

While polls in several countries show that many want tight controls to stop the disease from spreading, the broad climate of public support for governments has increasingly faded in the first wave of the pandemic.

Governments across Europe have come under fire for lack of coordination and rest in the summer to bolster defenses, leave hospitals unprepared and force people to use public transport to get to work.

“The relaxation of the measures applied during the summer months did not always go hand in hand with steps to build sufficient response capacities,” said the European Commission on Wednesday.

Italy, which has pledged more than 5 billion euros ($ 5.9 billion) in new support measures to businesses affected by the recent restrictions, has seen repeated clashes between police and protesters in cities from Naples to Turin, as well as bitter criticism from Experienced by restaurant owners and corporate groups.

With similar measures being taken elsewhere, corporate groups have sounded the alarm.

Germany’s BGA, a lobbying group for the service sector, said closing restaurants would inflict a “death blow” on many businesses and instead called for stricter measures to limit contagion in people’s homes.

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