Two of the worst-hit economies — the U.K. and France — are trying to avoid nationwide restrictions as cases reach records across Europe. Londoners will be banned from mixing with other households indoors, while people in Paris and eight other French cities will be confined to home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. for four weeks.
After broad lockdowns triggered some of the worst recessions in living memory in the second quarter, European officials are eager to stick to local restrictions targeted mainly at urban virus hot spots this time around.
“The economic recovery obviously goes better if we have the infection numbers under control,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday after a European Union summit in Brussels. “We agreed that we need to bring down the number of those infected and that means we need to reduce contacts.”
Yet Belgium, which has the most cases per-capita in Europe except for the Czech Republic, went for national measures.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the hospitality restrictions, along with a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew and curbs on alcohol sales and gatherings, will take effect Monday for four weeks. Work from home will be mandatory whenever possible. Bars in Brussels already were closed last week.
“By many measures, the numbers are worse than they were in March or April,” De Croo told a news conference. “And I bring no good message: those numbers will likely keep rising in the coming days.”
Belgium’s experience suggests that the prospect of national shutdowns in growing likelier, even after leaders including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to do everything possible to keep their economies running. A World Health Organization official warned of severe strains ahead for intensive-care wards.
“Everyone is worried about a second, full lockdown,” said Natalie Diaz-Fuentes, co-owner of London’s Santo Remedio Mexican restaurant and bar. “Even those of us who are lucky enough to have been busy and successful before the lockdown and just scraped through by the skin of our teeth.”
In Paris, chef Franck Baranger expressed outrage at Macron’s curfew announcement, made on national television on Wednesday, which he said showed the government is ill-prepared. France’s daily positive-test rate increased to 12.9% on Friday from 12.6%, while new cases retreated from a record of more than 30,000 on Thursday to 25,086, according to health authorities.
Because of the new regulations, the three restaurants Baranger co-owns in the French capital will have longer hours for lunch and will most likely open for dinner as early as 6 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m., he said. His seafood restaurant “Belle Maison” will offer a takeaway option as long as it’s before 9 p.m.
“I think the government would be totally unable to manage a corner shop,” Baranger said Friday at his “Caillebotte” restaurant.
While polls suggest that a majority in France back the idea of a curfew in major cities, some governments are having to contend with rising opposition to virus curbs among citizens keen to return to a semblance of normality.
But with Europe heading into the winter, when people will be unable to spend as much time outdoors and transmission rates are likely to rise, getting back to normal appears some way off.
There’s also been confusion in some countries, with central governments clashing with local administrations over the anti-virus response.
In the U.K., officials in Manchester refused Johnson’s request to move to the highest level of pandemic restrictions unless he provides more generous financial support. Merkel struggled to persuade Germany’s 16 state premiers this week to accept tougher measures.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the president of the Madrid region have disagreed publicly over policy. Spain reported more than 6,000 new cases for a second consecutive day, while occupancy of Madrid’s intensive-care beds eased slightly to 35.7%.
Italy’s reported daily cases rose by a record 10,010 on Friday, compared with 8,804 on Thursday. The positive-test rate climbed to 6.7% and patients in intensive care rose by 52 to 638. That compares with a peak of more than 4,000 in April.
The Milan region, which has been reporting the most infections, may order bars and restaurants to start closing early as soon as Friday, regional governor Attilio Fontana said.
Greece reported 508 new cases, the most since the start of the pandemic, increasing the total to 24,450. Another eight people died of Covid-19, raising the toll to 490.
ICUs in some European cities will probably reach full capacity in the weeks ahead, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead officer on Covid-19, said at a briefing in Geneva.