In a statement to Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was trying to take a balanced approach between the extremes of “shutting down our lives and our economy” and giving up the fight.
“We don’t want to go back to another national bloc,” he said, but “we can’t let the virus tear itself apart.”
Johnson announced a three-tier warning system, under which areas of greatest concern ̵
“These figures flash to us like warnings on the dashboard of a passenger plane and we need to act now,” Johnson added at an evening press conference.
Likewise, countries across Europe are seeking compromise as they rush to contain a resurgence of infections and hospital admissions. Despite this, they face more anger and frustration from companies and individuals than they did in the spring.
Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at Cambridge University, said that in Britain and other European countries, “a total blockade is off the political agenda”, partly because the “fear factor” around the novel coronavirus is not. what was in the spring.
While full blockades are best for limiting deaths and transmission, he said, “it is clear that people cannot endure long-term restrictions outside authoritarian regimes.”
France has hinted it could impose further restrictions after increased cases and hospitalizations. On Saturday, authorities reported 27,000 new cases in the previous 24 hours – a record. And on Monday, health officials said the number of people hospitalized for covid-19 exceeded 8,600 for the first time since late June.
“If in the next two weeks we see the indicators deteriorate, if the ICU beds fill even more than we expect, we will actually take additional measures,” said Prime Minister Jean Castex, urging people to limit meetings in homes.
The French government has avoided imposing a second blockade nationwide, but has issued new restrictions – notably on restaurant capacity and the timing of alcohol sales – in major urban areas.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to address the nation on Wednesday evening.
In Spain, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Friday called for emergency powers to prevent travel in and out of Madrid, overturning the conservative local government, which had favored blockades at the neighborhood level.
Opposition to the move was evident on Monday during Spain’s National Day celebrations. People gathered outside an event at the Royal Palace to boo the Sánchez government, and the far-right Vox party led a caravan of cars to protest “the criminal and totalitarian government.”
The Madrid region has reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases in the past seven days, making it one of the worst affected areas of the second European wave.
In Belgium, cases diagnosed last week were 89% higher than in the previous week. A spokesperson for the national coronavirus response, Yves Van Laethem, warned on Monday that if current trends don’t stop, the number of people in intensive care units at the end of October could rival the peaks seen in March and April.
“All indicators continue to increase alarmingly,” Van Laethem told reporters.
Germany on Monday added Munich to a growing list of coronavirus “red” zones, which triggers new restrictions. Starting Wednesday, Munich’s bars and restaurants will have to stop serving alcohol after 10pm. Wearing the mask will be mandatory for pedestrians and no more than two families or up to five people can meet in groups. Private indoor events are limited to 25 attendees and outdoor events to 50. The rules will remain in effect for at least two weeks, until October 27th..
In Italy the number of daily cases has not reached the number recorded in some other Western European countries, but the trajectory is still worrying. And unlike in the spring, when the outbreak primarily affected the country’s richer north, it is now reaching southern regions with more fragile economies and hospital systems.
Italy last week issued a national mandate under which masks must be worn both outdoors and indoors, and so far most appear to adhere to the measures. The government is now considering new measures that would include a ban on private parties and a cap on the number of guests at weddings and funerals, according to Reuters, citing a draft decree.
On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ruled out another national bloc, but said localized blocs could be used if needed.
In England, as elsewhere, there has been a negative reaction from the hard-hit hospitality sector. Many fear that companies may not survive the new wave of restrictions.
Nicola Storey, who runs the Mustard Pot pub in Leeds, said one of the most frustrating things was that there was no end in sight. She said her pub has already amassed “thousands upon thousands of pounds of debt” during the total lockdown in Britain, and is worried that more economic turmoil is on the way. “It looks like we don’t have a solution for the end point, so it’s just more restrictions, but for how long? There seems to be no plan to get out of it.”
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said he was “deeply skeptical” that Johnson had a strategy to manage the crisis. He noted that Johnson’s “whack-a-mole” strategy, which focused on local epidemics, did not reduce the numbers. “Twenty areas have been restricted for over two months, 19 have seen infection rates rise, some in very high numbers,” Starmer said.
In the United States, President Trump has pointed to increasing cases in Europe to defend his record.
“Great surge of the Chinese plague in Europe and other places that the Fake News used to support as examples of places that are doing well, in order to make the United States look bad,” the president tweeted, a week after his hospitalization for covid-19. “Be strong and alert, it will run its course. Vaccines and treatments are coming fast! “
Chico Harlan in Rome, Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, James McAuley in Paris and Luisa Beck in Berlin contributed to this report.