Germany starts ‘wave-breaker’ shutdown as Europe locks down – go back and forth

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Several European countries are tightening restrictions this week, starting with a partial shutdown Monday in Germany, as authorities across the continent scramble to slow a rapid rise in coronavirus infections that threatens to overwhelm their health care systems.

Britain and Austria will follow suit later in the week, closing restaurants, bars and non-essential shops. Italy, Greece and Kosovo also announced new measures. In some places, the new rules — which differ in strictness — are prompting violent protests by people frustrated at once again having to forgo freedoms.

But in many, experts are saying they must have come weeks ago — a reflection of the more and more difficult balance many countries are struggling to strike between controlling the virus and boosting already damaged economies.

“We are aware of the frustration, the sense of loss, the tiredness of citizens, also of the anger which is being manifested in at the moment, by citizens who find themselves living with new limits to their personal freedom,’’ said Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, as he defended his government’s decision to order new measures.

Restrictions have been slowly ramping up for weeks in many European countries, but virus cases have continued to rise. There used to be a signal of hope from hard-hit Belgium, then again, where a leading virologist said that “the high-speed train is fairly easing up.”

Overall, Europe has seen more than 270,000 confirmed virus-related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say case and death figures understate the true toll of the pandemic because of missed cases, limited testing and other reasons.

In Germany, restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, gyms and other leisure facilities closed in a four-week “wave-breaker” shutdown that seeks to force day-to-day new infections back down to manageable levels. Germans have been asked not to go back and forth, and hotels are barred from accommodating tourists.

In a worrying signal for a country long praised for its testing and tracing abilities, German officials say they may be able to’t track the source of three-quarters of new coronavirus cases. Health Minister Jens Spahn, who himself caught the virus, says he doesn’t realize where he used to be infected.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has doubled in 10 days, and the government couldn’t stand by and watch.

“The virus punishes half-heartedness,” she said of the new restrictions, telling Germans that “everyone has it in their own hands” to cause them to a success.

“We will be able to do try to do everything politically in order that this is limited to November,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. But she stressed that “we are very much dependent on the majority of people simply being sensible and playing along, and so saving others’ lives.”

The new restrictions are still milder than the ones Germany imposed in the first phase of the pandemic in March and April. This time, schools, non-essential shops and hairdressers are staying open. Officials will review the situation after two weeks.

England is headed for a tougher lockdown starting Thursday, with non-essential shops and hairdressers closing for a month and people allowed to leave home for only a short list of reasons including exercise. Shuttle could also be discouraged.

The lockdown is supposed to end on December 2, but minister Michael Gove told Sky News on Sunday that couldn’t be guaranteed “with a virus this malignant, and with its capacity to move so quickly.”

The plan, which needs lawmakers’ approval, is facing resistance from parts of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party, which worries approximately its economic affect. Still, passage is practically assured on account of backing from the opposition Labour Party.

Austria could also be introducing new restrictions this week. Starting Tuesday and until the end of November, restaurants and bars are being closed — aside from for deliveries and takeout, as in Germany and England — and cultural, sports and leisure activities are cancelled. Residents will be asked to stay home from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. They may be able to go out to exercise or to work, among other things.

In Spain, lawmakers final week approved an extension until May 2021 of the country’s state of emergency. The measure puts into place a national nightly curfew and allows regions to impose more localized restrictions, such as limiting movement outdoor city limits on weekends.

“These measures save lives,” Catalonia police chief Eduard Sallent said. “We are enforcing a measure that is meant to prevent deaths and the collapse of our health care system.”

Spain’s curfew drew weekend protests in a dozen cities. Mostly young protesters set fire to vehicles and trash cans, blocked streets and threw objects at riot police.

Cabinet minister José Luis Escrivá told Antena 3 television Monday that “this sort of behaviour is to be expected” as people grow weary of restrictions.

Countries including hard-hit Belgium, France, Poland and the Czech Republic have already got implemented shutdowns of varying strictness.

In Italy, Conte announced new restrictions including the closure of shopping malls at weekends and of museums. Movement between regions will be limited and a “late-evening” curfew introduced, Conte said, without specifying a time or saying when the measures will take effect.

Greece announced a localized lockdown in its second-largest city, Thessaloniki, and the Northern Province of Serres.

While cases have been rising and are mannered beyond governments’ consolation zones across the continent, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Regulate show wide variations in the average number of new cases per 100,000 residents reported during the last 14 days, with Germany’s figure of approximately 215 as of Monday less than half those of Austria and the U.K. The country currently worst hit, Belgium, has 1,735 new cases per 100,000.

A leading Belgian virologist said that “long-expected points of light” are beginning to seem, though the situation remains “extremely worrying.”

“The number of infections and hospital admissions continue to rise but not as fast anymore,” said Steven Van Gucht of the Sciensano government health group.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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