MADRID – Europe’s two largest economies – France and Germany – are preparing for partial lockdowns, while the number of COVID-19 patients in Belgian hospitals has reached capacity.
A study in the United Kingdom suggests almost 100,000 people are infected with COVID-19 each day in England – only a fraction of which is detected and the Czech Republic’s Independence Day holiday was muted amid surging cases in central Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that nationwide lockdown restrictions agreed with the country’s 16 regional state leaders a day earlier were “adequate, necessary and proportionate” during a speech in the Bundestag.
She described the pandemic as “a medical, economic, social, political and psychological test” of the country’s unity.
During her speech, she was consistently booed and heckled by deputies from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, with Wolfgang Schaeuble, the president of the Bundestag, having to interrupt proceedings to call them to order.
Merkel stressed that “it is good, it is important, it is indispensable” that the measures to combat the pandemic are “publicly discussed, criticized and questioned as to their proportionality,” adding that “critical debate does not weaken democracy but, on the contrary, strengthens it.”
Addressing the AfD MPs directly, Merkel said: “lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hate damage not only the democratic debate, but also the fight against the virus.”
The chancellor said she understood the “frustration” and “desperation” in particular of business owners who will have to close their businesses throughout November because of the new restrictions, but insisted they were necessary to regain control of the outbreak before the Christmas holiday period.
Germany registered 16,774 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, a new record.
The country is braced for a new national lockdown, which is set to come into effect on Friday on top of a nightly curfew and will mean that people will not be allowed to leave their house without official permission. The measures will last at least one month, president Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday night.
Unlike the full lockdowns seen in the spring, schools are to remain open but pupils over the age of six will have to wear facemasks in the classroom, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday. The measure had already been obligatory for over 11s.
“The health protocol will be adopted and reinforced to make sure everyone is protected: children, teachers, parents,” the prime minister said.
With one of Europe’s worst COVID-19 infection rates, the number of COVID-19 patients in Belgium’s hospitals has now surpassed official capacity.
There are currently 5,924 people receiving hospital treatment in Belgium, higher than the peak hospital occupancy of 5,759 during the first COVID-19 wave in spring.
Belgium has a 14 cumulative incidence rate of 1,498 cases per 100,000 people. Authorities are taking efforts to curb the soaring case rises in the country with a curfew and the closure of the hospitality sector but warn that stricter measures could yet be required.
Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke warned that four weeks of stricter measures may fall short, and that eight weeks would be more realistic. He added: “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, apart from one: we’re going to have to bear this for a long time. It is a marathon.”
The UK government wants to avoid a second national lockdown at all costs, housing minister Robert Jenrick said on Thursday amid soaring cases and localized lockdowns in the UK.
He told Sky News: “We don’t want to create a second national lockdown. We know that has some effect on bearing down on the virus but we also know it’s immensely disruptive in other regards to people’s lives and livelihoods and broader health and wellbeing, so we will do everything we can to avoid that situation.”
His comments came just after a study from Imperial College London suggested that 96,000 people were contracting coronavirus in England each day, which is roughly four times higher than official tallies.
Professor Paul Elliot said: “Now more than ever we must all work together to curb further spread of the virus and avoid subsequent overwhelming of the health service.”
Some areas of England such as Liverpool and Manchester are under the strongest tier of COVID restrictions, which means bars and restaurants must close if they don’t also serve food and households are not allowed to mix at social gatherings.
Most Spanish regions are sealing their borders ahead of a holiday weekend for All Saints Day, a time of year Spaniards would normally make trips around the country.
Authorities capital Madrid have decided to put the measure but will limit it the weekend periods over the next 14 days. This timeframe covers a national holiday and a local one, a time of the year when many people leave the city to visit relatives.
Madrid’s conservative leadership, often at odds with the left-leaning national government, had been reluctant to close the capital region’s borders. The neighboring regions of Castile and Leon and Castilla La Mancha planned on closing their borders to travel, anyway.
Spain’s government recently declared a national curfew and another state of alarm as part of its efforts to get a handle on a second wave of the virus in a country already badly hit by the initial outbreak of the pandemic. Health authorities added a further 19,000 infections to the official caseload on Wednesday.
Authorities in Catalonia decided to enforce a form of lockdown, closing theaters and cinemas, banning non-professional sporting activities and placing travel limits in and out of municipalities each weekend.