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As the virus increases in Europe, resistance to new restrictions also grows

LONDON – France has placed cities on “maximum alert” and ordered many to close all bars, gyms and sports centers on Saturday. Italy and Poland made masks mandatory in public. The Czech Republic has declared a state of emergency and German authorities fear that new outbreaks may soon grow beyond the control of their vaunted tests and tracing.

Across Europe and beyond, Covid-19 is roaring again and, as it happened last spring, officials are calling for restrictions to try to suppress it. But this time it’s different.

Still reeling from the economic, emotional and physical toll of nationwide blockades that have brought the continent to a virtual standstill, government officials are finding that the public may not be as compliant the second time around.

In some places new restrictions are accepted, albeit reluctantly, because the alternative – new nationwide lockdowns – would only be worse. But there is growing skepticism that the public could even accept such a drastic step.

Instead, with the exhaustion and frustration of pandemic restrictions, governments are trying to chart a restrictive path between keeping the virus in check and what their citizens and economies will tolerate. This is especially true in democracies, where governments are ultimately accountable to voters.

“It will be much more difficult this time around,” said Cornelia Betsch, Heisenberg-Professor of Health Communication at the University of Erfurt, Germany, citing “pandemic fatigue”.

As the crisis deepens, the once solid consensus in many countries to join the sacrifices to fight the virus is showing signs of fracture. New rules are challenged in court. National and local leaders are fighting.

In Spain, the government decreed a state of emergency in the Madrid area on Friday. The step was taken on the heads of the highest regional court and the local opposition politicians, and within hours the nation’s top opposition leader invited the prime minister to appear in parliament to justify it.

The intense feud in Spain reflects broader political resistance to national leaders around the world.

Business groups are issuing dire warnings that entire industries could collapse if restrictions go too far. Sporadic protests have erupted, usually, though not always, limited to a political fringe. Public skepticism is fueled in many countries by the inability of governments to deliver on the big promises about measures like contact tracing, testing and other measures.

In perhaps the most obvious indication that people are either confused or have stopped listening to the guide, cases continue to erupt, even in places where new measures have already been enacted.

Last month Portugal ordered new restrictions, but on Thursday it recorded more than 1,000 daily infections for the first time since April. In northern England, where new rules have come and gone, the most tangible result has been to sow confusion, not slow the contagion. Officials are now warning that hospitals may face a greater patient flow than at the height of the April pandemic.

The World Health Organization announced on Thursday a record one-day increase in coronavirus cases worldwide. Europe, as a region, is now they report more cases than India, Brazil or the United States.

The trap of imposing new tougher measures has already been seen in Israel, the only country to order a second nationwide blockade. It led to chaos and rampant protests.

“People see the decisions as political and not health-based,” said Ishay Hadas, a protest organizer in Israel, arguing that masked outdoor gatherings carry minimal risk. “The main problem is the lack of public trust.”

“It’s no accident of what Merkel wants, however – she MUST, together with states and towns and cities, prevent a second blockade!” Bild editors warned. “In a free country the majority cannot be forced to pay for the behavior of a few idiots.”

In Germany, as in other countries, the goal is to change the behavior of young people.

“Isn’t it worth being a little patient now?” Mrs Merkel begged them. “Everything will come back: parties, outings, fun without crown rules. But in this moment, something else matters more, to be aware of each other and to stick together. “

But public patience, in Germany and elsewhere, is precisely what is diminishing.

It’s important to follow rules like wearing the mask and washing your hands, he said. June Nossin, 32, a Belgian-born therapist sitting on the terrace of a Parisian café. But there was a limit to what people could take.

“If everything is banned,” he said, “people will go crazy.”

The report was contributed by Raphael Minder from Spain, Christopher Schuetze and Melissa Eddy from Berlin, Adam Nossiter, Aurelien Breeden and Antonella Francini from France, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem and Elizabeth Povoledo and Emma Bubola from Italy.

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