European countries are reimposing nationwide limitations aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 amid a second wave of the pandemic, as health systems across the Continent approach their limits and cases continue to rise at an alarming pace. On Wednesday, France and Germany announced their strictest measures since the spring, with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, instituting the country’s second nationwide lockdown and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announcing a partial shutdown.
Under Macron’s order, which will go into effect on Thursday night and extend for at least a month, most nonessential businesses — including bars and restaurants — will close. Private and public gatherings will be prohibited and movement outside one’s home will be limited to purchasing essential goods, seeking medical attention, or exercise for up to one hour a day. “As in the darkest days of spring, anyone leaving their home in France will now have to carry a document justifying being outside, which can be checked by police,” according to Reuters. Unlike in the spring, however, schools will remain open. Thursday night saw massive traffic jams in Paris as people tried to get out of the country before the lockdown began — thereby potentially undermining the point of the lockdown itself:
Germany’s partial shutdown, which the country’s government is calling “lockdown lite,” includes shuttering bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues from November 2 through November 30. Schools will remain open; shops will operate with limited access. While Merkel’s new limits are less severe than those announced by Macron, the countermeasures are nevertheless some of Europe’s toughest in months and indicate a last-ditch effort to halt the uptick before German hospitals — which have seen the number of patients double in the past ten days — reach their breaking point. “We need to take action now,” the chancellor said. “Our health system can still cope with this challenge today, but at this speed of infections, it will reach the limits of its capacity within weeks.” Olaf Scholz, Merkel’s finance minister, said, “November will be a month of truth” in the fight against COVID-19.
The heightened measures signal a growing sense of panic across Europe, where countries are struggling to contain the coronavirus outbreak while days grow colder — sending more people indoors, where the virus is likely to spread more easily. “We in Europe are all surprised by the propagation of the virus,” Macron said in a televised address, noting the number of infections had doubled in less than two weeks, “a speed that even the most pessimistic forecasts had not anticipated.” Merkel, too, sounded the alarm about surging infection rates: “We no longer have control of the spread of the virus,” she said at a Berlin news conference on Wednesday, the same day that Germany saw a record 14,964 new cases (compared to the 1,192 reported a month earlier).
Rising cases have also prompted new restrictions elsewhere in Europe this week. On Wednesday, Portugal made it compulsory for people ages 10 and up to wear a mask outdoors when social distancing cannot be guaranteed; the same day, a nationwide curfew began in the Czech Republic. Across major cities in Italy, protests have erupted against new pandemic-related restrictions, which include the early closure of restaurants and month-long closure of cinemas, gyms, and theaters. In Belgium — which is, along with the Czech Republic, the E.U. country faring worst in Europe’s second wave — hospitals are so overwhelmed that Germany is reportedly willing to accept coronavirus patients to ease their strain. Sweden, whose relaxed approach to containing COVID-19 has drawn global attention (and some controversy) is also seeing a record spike in cases.
The shift comes as Europe’s rate of new infections has tripled in the past month, the New York Times reported, surpassing 200,000 a day. On Thursday, the World Health Organization announced that Europe had set a new weekly record for confirmed cases with more than 1.5 million last week and more than 10 million since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in the United States, some state and local officials are also imposing new restrictions amid rising infections and hospitalizations. In El Paso, Texas, residents are under a nightly curfew. On Tuesday, a mask mandate was passed in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Last week, Boston public schools suspended in-person learning after a surge in cases, an uptick that forced more than a dozen smaller cities and towns in Massachusetts to shutter certain businesses and reduce capacity at others.