France, Germany head to lock down as virus surges in Europe

Adam Plowright, with AFP Bureaus
·4-min read

Bars, restaurants and services prepared Thursday to shut down in France and Germany as lockdown measures return to Europe to halt a surging tide of coronavirus cases. 

As the pandemic spread worldwide, hundreds of thousands of new infections took the known global caseload past 44 million, with nearly 1.2 million deaths.

India, the second-worst hit nation in the world, crossed eight million cases with fears of worse days ahead as the religious festival of Diwali draws near.

Following significantly relaxed summer seasons in Europe, cases are now spiking, pushing leaders to draw lessons from the first wave's lockdown as they tailor measures to balance health and economic concerns.

Starting Friday, France will bar people from leaving their homes without authorisation, bars and restaurants will be closed until at least December and travel between regions will be limited, President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address Wednesday.

"As elsewhere in Europe, we are overwhelmed by a second wave that will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first," Macron said, though he assured that this lockdown would be less severe than the first. 

Factories and building sites will remain open, as will creches and schools -- although children as young as six will be required to wear masks.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a lighter round of shutdowns from Monday, November 2, until the end of the month.

Hotel stays are to be restricted while professional sport, including Bundesliga football, is set to take place behind closed doors.

Merkel also warned against the threat of "lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hate" that are undermining the global battle against the pandemic.

Like many parts of the world, the country has seen protests from corona-skeptics, some of which have erupted into violence. 

Other European states are also tightening the screws on normal life, with Ireland locking down last week while Spain and Italy imposed curfews and travel restrictions.

Yet despite surging cases and deaths, the UK has vowed to persist with its localised approach instead of a nationwide lockdown.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded statistics showed Britain was in a "bad place", with nearly 25,000 new cases registered on Wednesday.

But he indicated that ministers still believed targeted action was "the best way forward" given varying rates of infection.

EU leaders are to hold a video summit Thursday on the crisis, according to European sources, the first in a series of such calls to improve coordination across the continent.

- 'Time to make a will' -

One of the biggest concerns for governments is public weariness and anger over the economic, social and psychological costs of the lockdowns.

"It's a disaster, because I can't stay at home, because it's hard and I want to work," Paris beautician Irina told AFP.

The health risks and the economic pain have upended daily life, from remote schooling to office work and even planning for death itself.

In Mexico, which has the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll at more than 90,000, the pandemic has forced people to draft wills that many would put off.

"We Mexicans often leave things until 'manana' (tomorrow) and don't like to talk about wills. It's a bad omen," said Laura Villa, a 49-year-old financial sector worker and mother of two.

"The pandemic made me decide now's the time to make a will."

Elsewhere in Latin America, Argentina passed 30,000 deaths, and both countries lag behind Brazil's nearly 160,000 fatalities.

- Pandemic Halloween -

The United States still has the highest death toll and infection count in the world, and like Europe, it is battling a fresh spike with tens of thousands of new daily cases as fears grow that hospitals could be overwhelmed.

There was further alarm when the FBI and two other US agencies warned of "an increased and imminent cybercrime threat" to US hospitals, including ransomware attacks and disruption of services.

The agencies urged hospitals to take precautions, saying such attacks "will be particularly challenging" because of the pandemic.

The coronavirus has cast a pall over Halloween celebrations on October 31, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning they could present a high risk.

"I am just so glad that this was going on this year to keep just something for them," said Sarah Nocerino, referring to her primary school-aged daughters.

"They've had so much that they couldn't do this year, it was nice to have a tradition that we can still participate in for Halloween."