Europe braces for fresh lockdowns as Covid-19 cases double in 5 weeks

Published November 2, 2020
Members of the medical staff in protective suits treat a patient suffering from the coronavirus with a computer tomograph in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Havelhoehe community hospital in Berlin, Germany on October 30. — Reuters
Members of the medical staff in protective suits treat a patient suffering from the coronavirus with a computer tomograph in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Havelhoehe community hospital in Berlin, Germany on October 30. — Reuters

LONDON: Europe’s new Covid-19 cases have doubled in five weeks as the United Kingdom, France and Germany have announced nationwide lockdowns for at least the next month that are almost as strict as the restrictions in March and April. Portugal has imposed a partial lockdown and Spain and Italy are tightening restrictions.

A new national lockdown in England may have to last longer than the planned four weeks if coronavirus infection rates don’t fall quickly enough, a senior government minister said on Sunday.

The lockdown announced on Saturday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to run from Thursday until Dec 2. Johnson says it’s needed to stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients within weeks.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said it was the governments fervent hope that the lockdown would end on time, but that could not be guaranteed.

UK says four-week coronavirus lockdown may have to last longer

With a virus this malignant, and with its capacity to move so quickly, it would be foolish to predict with absolute certainty what will happen in four-week time, he told Sky News.

According to AP, under the new restrictions, bars and restaurants can only offer take-out, non-essential shops must close and people will only be able to leave home for a short list of reasons, including exercise. Hairdressers, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and bowling alleys are among venues that must shut down, and foreign holidays are barred.

Unlike during the UK’s first three-month coronavirus lockdown earlier this year, schools, universities, construction sites and manufacturing businesses will stay open.

Britain has the worst virus death toll in Europe, with more than 46,700 dead. It passed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday and confirmed another 23,254 new infections on Sunday.

Like other European countries, virus cases in the UK began to climb after lockdown measures were eased in the summer and people began to return to workplaces, schools, universities and social life. In recent weeks, new infections have been soaring across the continent, especially in Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Spain and the UK

While Europe almost took nine months to record its first 5m Covid-19 cases, the next 5m cases were reported in slightly over a month, according to a Reuters analysis.

PM Johnson had hoped regional restrictions introduced in October, mostly in northern England, would be enough to push the numbers of new infections down. But government scientific advisers predict that on the outbreaks current trajectory, the demand for hospital beds will exceed the capacity by the first week of December, even if temporary hospitals are set up again.

“Unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day,” PM Johnson said as he announced the lockdown during a televised news conference on Saturday evening.

But owners of pubs, restaurants, theaters and gyms all say the measures will be devastating.

A government programme that has paid the wages of millions of furloughed employees during the pandemic has been extended during the new lockdown.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2020

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