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.
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.”
While issues surrounding the use of masks and other prudent measures remain far less politicized in Europe, especially than in America, the prospect of a winter with severe restrictions or even blockades is sparking new frustration and dividing political parties.
With Britain expecting to announce even more radical measures on Monday, many focused on limits on drinking and partying, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, Sir Keir Starmer, has he challenged the government to produce any scientific evidence showing that early pub closures help slow broadcasting.
Even the people in charge of advising the UK government can’t keep up and can’t explain some of the measures.
“People are very confused,” said Robert West, a professor of health psychology at the University of the College of London. Mr. West is a member of the subcommittee of SAGE, a science body that advises the government on policy.
“I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say I know what the rules are,” he said.
In a part of the eurozone region that W.H.O. The team studied in detail, about half of the population suffer from pandemic fatigue, Ms. Betsch said. These people were looking for less information about the virus, less concerned about the risks, and less willing to follow recommended behaviors.
Slowing the spread of the virus, which thrives on human contact, still depends on people changing their behavior.
“The only other option is to lock ourselves up again,” said Francesca Del Gaudio, 24, as she and a friend, wearing masks like almost everyone around them, walked through Piazza Trilussa in Rome on Thursday, the first day of the measurements. enlarged in Italy. “And we don’t want it.”
But if people choose not to listen to the guide, it remains to be seen whether steep punishments will punish them. Offenders in Italy now face a € 1,000 fine.
Surveys in countries across Europe reviewed by health officials show that a clear majority of people are willing to comply with regulations if they are well explained and easy to follow.
People may also be more willing to submit to new restrictions if they see hospitals fill up and the death toll soar, Ms. Betsch said.
But the European regulatory landscape is changing so rapidly that governments risk undermining basic guidance in their contortions to avoid further blockages. Some passages just seemed meaningless.
In Spain, restaurants in Madrid have been ordered to stop their service after 10pm and close by 11pm. – when many people are just thinking about sitting down to eat.
“Everyone knows we dine in Spain much later than in other countries, so not being able to stay open until midnight is pure economic nonsense,” said Florentino Pérez del Barsa, a Madrid restaurateur.
Although public attention often focuses on those who shout the loudest – such as the thousands of people who recently protested outside the Berlin Reichstag and in London’s Trafalgar Square, calling the pandemic a hoax and a government-governed plot – they represent only about 10% of the public. , second a study from Germany.
About 20% of people are against the regulations, presumably for personal, emotional and financial reasons.
But Ms. Betsch, who worked with W.H.O. Research team, said the biggest concern is about half the population – the “fences”.
They are open to regulation but need to be heard and educated, he said, and new government policies that are fragmented only aggravate the frustration.
The choices facing national governments are burdensome.
The French government, looking forward to the filling of hospital beds, has extended its high-alert “ red zone ” to many major metropolitan areas including Lyon, Grenoble, Lille and Saint-Etienne as well as Paris, Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. Toulouse residents protested on Friday, fearing their city would be included.
Xavier Lencou, an engineering student queuing for a coronavirus test near Les Halles in central Paris, said more people around him adhere to measures such as wearing a mask, unlike spring.
But he feared that tougher measures would push people beyond their limits.
“If we had a new block it could be worse, because people wouldn’t respect it.” He said.
Jérôme Fourquet, political analyst in France The IFOP polling institute said managing the economy and the epidemic was like “coming full circle”, even more so now that “our room for maneuver is not at all what it was last March”.
He said the French government now has less to spend on supporting businesses and people are less willing to accept any new restrictions.
Even for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fears that a second bloc could condemn the fragile economic recovery have led to growing pushbacks by citizens and businesses.
Ms Merkel said this week that she “doesn’t want a situation like that in spring to happen again” – which means another lockdown – and warned on Friday that the next 10 days would be critical.
But the country’s mass-circulation Bild newspaper reflected the sentiments of many Germans in its lead editorial on Friday, warning that a blockade would lead to “mass unemployment, bankruptcies and endless tensions over families and children.”
“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.