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Coronavirus: Germany and France to decide on new lockdowns

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In Germany, it is being termed a “lockdown light” for November while in France a four-week lockdown is expected but less severe than in the spring.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to decide with state leaders whether to shut bars, leisure centres and hotels to halt the rise in infections.

President Emmanuel Macron will give details of French measures later.

Covid infections in Europe are almost as high as in the first wave, although testing now is more extensive.

Night curfews are in force in several countries. However, one French minister has complained that curfews affecting some 46 million people have failed to halt social interactions.

“[The curfew] has simply shifted them – instead of getting together at 21:00, people meet up at six,” the unnamed minister was quoted as saying.

The German government is keen to enable families and friends to meet at Christmas, but daily infections have soared to a new high of 14,964 and 85 more deaths.

Ireland imposed tight measures last week with the aim of reopening before Christmas and Italy shut cinemas and gyms this week in an attempt to “save Christmas”. Now the UK government is under pressure to act too.

What measures are expected?

A draft proposal seen by German media suggests a broad but limited lockdown from 4 November:

  • Schools would remain open 
  • Social contacts would be limited to two households and tourism would be halted
  • Cinemas, theatres, leisure centres would be shut
  • Bars would close and restaurants would be limited to takeaways
  • Tattoo and massage parlours would shut but hairdressers would be allowed to stay open

In France, the defence council and cabinet were deciding the extent of the planned four-week lockdown on Wednesday, but reports suggest schools will stay open and online study will be encouraged for older children and universities.

The changes could kick in from Thursday night.

France recorded 523 deaths on Tuesday, including 235 in residential homes, and the hospital federation has appealed for as broad a lockdown as possible. 

“The country is really on the verge of having its health system becoming deluged,” it said, warning of significant excess mortality in the most vulnerable groups.

The French government has been taken by surprise by the virulence of this second Covid wave. Some 50,000 new cases a day are being reported and that’s probably a big underestimate.

The proportion of critical beds occupied by Covid patients is now 70% in Paris. So, at 20:00 (19:00 GMT) on Wednesday, President Macron is going to announce new restrictions – probably a new national lockdown, as in March, but with some key differences.

Schools for example will probably stay open. For business, it’s going to be another massive blow – especially for sectors like entertainment and events – though the president will doubtless also say that extra government aid to struggling companies can also now be expected. 

After the economy picked up in the third quarter, it now looks inevitable that it’ll contract again between now and the end of the year, and for the whole of 2020 the government’s predicting a 10% fall in GDP.

How are infections spreading?

While Western Europe has seen numbers returning to levels last seen during the initial wave, there are also big rises in Central and Eastern Europe.

  • In Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova has warned of a critical situation in hospital bed capacity in 16 regions. Five regions are at 95% capacity, she says. Masks are now required in crowded public places across Russia.
  • Poland on Wednesday announced a further 18,820 cases and 236 deaths
  • Belgium has reached its highest number of hospitalisations in a single day (689) since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The number of deaths has now surpassed 11,000
  • Spain has recorded 267 more deaths – the highest number since 1 May
  • Night curfews start at 21:00 today in the Czech Republic – except for working, walking the dog or urgent medical needs. Shops shut at 20:00. The country has again recorded more than 15,000 new cases