Germany’s federal and state governments agreed on Wednesday to shut parts of the economy and toughen restrictions on social contact, in an attempt to stem a record rise in coronavirus infection rates.
As the rise in infections stoked alarm across the continent, France’s president Emmanuel Macron announced a new one-month national lockdown.
Stocks slumped to their lowest level since May. The region-wide Stoxx 600 index fell 3 per cent on Wednesday and has lost more than 5 per cent since the end of last week as local markets in Frankfurt, Paris and London have endured bouts of selling. Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index closed down 3.5 per cent. London’s FTSE fell 2.8 per cent.
The new regulations in Germany will be imposed from Monday and last until the end of November. They require all restaurants, bars, and most public entertainment to be closed. Football matches in the Bundesliga and other professional sports fixtures will be held without spectators. Schools, day care centres, hair salons and retailers will remain open.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said: “We have to act, and act now, to prevent an acute national health emergency.”
She acknowledged that the measures being introduced were “hard . . . and burdensome”. “It’s a heavy day for political decision makers,” she added.
Ms Merkel will meet regional heads of state again in two weeks, a statement released after the meeting said, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures and to make any necessary adjustments.
In a televised address to the French nation on Wednesday evening, Mr Macron said: “Like all our neighbours, we are submerged by the acceleration of the virus.” He warned that the “second wave” would “probably be harder and more murderous than the first”.
Mr Macron said the lockdown — involving travel restrictions, the closure of borders to non-EU travellers and the closure of all bars and restaurants — would be different from the one imposed in the spring because schools, factories and companies would stay open, while visits to old people’s homes and funerals would be permitted.
“The economy must not stop nor collapse,” he said.
The French lockdown will apply from midnight on Thursday to at least the beginning of December. The spring lockdown lasted from mid-March to mid-May, and sharply reduced the spread of coronavirus.
Earlier in the day in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, announced plans to improve EU-wide coronavirus testing and tracing as part of a package of measures triggered by the pandemic’s resurgence in Europe.
Speaking ahead of a videoconference of EU premiers and presidents on Thursday, Ms von der Leyen said the Covid-19 situation was “very serious” and required a stronger EU response.
Prof Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a special adviser to Ms von der Leyen, warned that the numbers of new infections now emerging in the EU were “really staggering”.
“The resurgence we are seeing now after the initial successes over the summer shows how fragile these gains are,” he said. “We kind of relaxed too much the measures that are basically about behaviour — [and] we are paying a high price.”
France on Tuesday reported 523 Covid-19 deaths during the previous 24 hours, the highest total since April 22. In Germany, coronavirus cases rose by 11,409 to 449,275 on Tuesday.
The trends in the EU’s two leading powers reflect a wider continental tilt as countries scramble to deal with large rises in case numbers. Some have said they fear that hospitals will be overwhelmed unless more severe social controls are imposed.
Belgium, headquarters of the EU, is the second worst affected country of the 31 comprising the European Economic Area and the UK, according to data published on Wednesday by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Belgium had a 14-day cumulative number of 1,424.2 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, behind only the Czech Republic on 1,448.7. France suffered 659.9 cases, the UK 424.1 and Germany 156.2.
In the UK, more English regions were braced for further restrictions as the British government announced 310 deaths from Covid-19 the previous day.
With Downing Street scientific advisers arguing for the whole country to enter tougher restrictions by December, one aide said: “We are seeing the data every day and the last couple of days in particular have been looking increasingly concerning.”
The British government is braced for a “worst-case planning scenario” of 85,000 dead in a second wave, with 356,000 in hospital — even under a partial lockdown until next April — according to an official document from July 30 published on Wednesday on the Spectator website.
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Additional reporting by Jim Pickard in London
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