Europe

Europe's coronavirus woes multiply with leaders drifting to lockdowns

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson became Europe’s latest leader to retreat from a no-lockdown pledge, faced with a virus pandemic that’s wreaking havoc on government plans and derailing an economic recovery.

A one-month stay-at-home policy for all of England will take effect Thursday (Nov 5), with waivers for schools, universities and essential stores, Johnson said on Saturday as UK cases surpassed 1 million. Germany and France imposed similar partial shutdowns this week.

Austria and Greece followed the example of the European Union’s two big economic powers on Saturday with expanded shutdowns for November.

Leaders across the region are seeking to beat back the virus surge before the end-of-year holiday season in Europe, where more than 215,000 have died and nearly 7 million have been infected.

“Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different,” Johnson told a news conference. “But it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now, we can allow families across the country to be together.”

Bars, restaurants, leisure facilities and cultural venues have to close in Germany starting Monday, while schools and most shops can remain open. France began its version of “lockdown lite” on Friday.

Belgium is closing all non-essential stores and curtailing family visits to avoid crashing its health-care system. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, intent on avoiding a national lockdown, expanded economic aid for businesses and tightened restrictions in population centres.

With protests multiplying and political unity fraying, officials had been trying to avoid the sweeping restrictions that plunged the continent into recession in the spring.

Here’s the latest from the Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Greece:

Britain

Johnson announced a partial lockdown for England, seeking to contain a resurgent coronavirus outbreak that’s spreading faster than the government’s worst-case projections and threatening to strain the National Health Service.

Furloughed workers will be eligible for state payments covering as much as 80% of wages through the new lockdown period, Johnson said, extending assistance that was due to end this weekend and be replaced by a less generous programme.

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The lockdown will start on Thursday, pending a vote in parliament, and last until at least early December, Johnson said.

“We’re not going back to the full-scale lockdown of March and April,” he said. “The measures that I’ve outlined are less prohibitive, less restrictive. But I’m afraid from Thursday, the basic message is the same: stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Cases in the UK, where pandemic policy is controlled separately in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, increased by almost 22,000 on Saturday. Britain’s Europe-leading death toll of more than 46,000 compares with about 36,600 deaths in France, which has a similar population.

Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel and business leaders will discuss easing the burden on industry on Wednesday.

“We need to do everything in our power to get the infection numbers under control” while protecting jobs, Merkel said in her weekly podcast.

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Merkel announced measures this week to severely limit movement, while keeping schools open and the economy ticking over. Germany is in a “dramatic situation,” with health-care services stretched close to the limit and authorities no longer able to track infections back to the source, Merkel said.

If Germany waits until intensive care units are full, it will be too late, she said, warning of “four long and difficult winter months” ahead. More than 19,000 new cases were reported on Friday, the second-highest daily number yet.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Friday the government still expects growth of 0.4% in the fourth quarter.

Merkel is struggling to retain control over the crisis. An address she made Thursday in parliament was repeatedly interrupted by heckling from opposition lawmakers as she condemned “lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hate.”

France

France’s goal is to limit the economic contraction to 15% during the latest lockdown, about half of the 30% decline during the one that started in March, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

That was caused in particular by a halt to construction work, while this time building sites and stores selling building materials will remain open, as well as government services handling permits.

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The new curbs were announced less than a week after France expanded a curfew to about two-thirds of the population.

“The virus is circulating in France at a speed that even the most pessimistic forecast didn’t foresee,” President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday in an address to the nation.

On Friday, France reported the most new deaths since April 20, the same day the first lockdown went into effect.

Italy

Italy, which has been under a partial lockdown for the last week, could add a ban on travel between regions, Corriere della Sera reported Saturday. Milan, Naples, Bologna, Turin and Rome are among cities that could face lockdowns of at least parts of their metropolitan areas, according to Corriere.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte would prefer to wait a few days before adding new restrictions, but is under pressure from factions in his coalition favoring more action as the virus threatens to overwhelm the health system, the newspaper said.

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Italy is “flexible” and is studying whether new measures are needed, Conte said in an online forum on Saturday. Keeping schools open will be a challenge, he said.

Italy could still go into a near-full lockdown as soon as Nov. 9 if new infections rise further, Il Messaggero reported.

Italy has already set an 11 p.m. curfew, curtailed operating hours for restaurants and bars, and shut down gyms, swimming pools and entertainment venues.

Reported new cases exceeded 30,000 on Friday for the first time since the pandemic began.

Spain

A majority of Spain’s 17 regions have already closed their domestic borders or will do so this week, preventing non-essential travel.

Targeted regional lockdowns will remain in force until after Nov 9, and cover consecutive bank-holiday weekends, which would typically lead to massive flows of travelers moving across the country.

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Regional authorities have extraordinary powers to declare curbs on movement after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a state of emergency on Oct 25. Spain this week reported more than 9,000 daily coronavirus infections on two consecutive days, the most since tracking started.

Greece

Residents of Greece will face tighter restrictions during November, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said as the country recorded a record 2,056 new cases on Saturday.

The country will be divided into high-risk and under-surveillance zones. In high-risk areas, including the capital Athens, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums, theaters and gyms will close, though people will still be allowed to move among regions.

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Industry, schools, retail shops, hotels and hair salons will remain open nationwide. A nighttime curfew will start half an hour earlier at midnight, Mitsotakis said.

Austria

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz joined his peers in giving up on more-limited measures.

A partial lockdown he unveiled Saturday is similar to neighboring Germany’s, with schools and non-essential stores open and restrictions on staying home applying only at night.

Restaurants, cafes and hotels will close except for takeout and for business travellers. Gyms, cinemas and theaters will be shuttered. The rules take effect Tuesday through the end of November.

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