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Europe Tightens Rules, Calls for Sacrifice as Virus Cases Rise

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 10/13/2020 Patrick Donahue, Rudy Ruitenberg and Peter Laca

(Bloomberg) -- European governments are adding new restrictions and calling on citizens to make sacrifices in a bid to contain a record increase in coronavirus cases, with the Czech Republic closing schools and the Netherlands shutting down virtually all nighttime activity.

Saying measures needed to stop the virus “will hurt,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced what he called a “partial lockdown” on Tuesday evening, with sales of alcohol to be banned after 8 p.m. and bars, restaurants and coffee shops to be closed altogether. Citizens are being urged to avoid public transportation where possible.

“The facts don’t lie, we have to be stricter for ourselves, and stricter on our own behavior,” Rutte said at a televised news conference. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge warned that a total lockdown could be the next step if the new measures don’t work.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that bars and pubs will be closed in the worst-hit parts of England beginning Wednesday, even as his top health adviser warned that won’t be enough. While the opposition Labour Party called for a short lockdown to halt the contagion, Johnson told Conservative lawmakers on a Zoom call Tuesday that he’s against a new nationwide lockdown, people familiar with the meeting said.

Irish health authorities are considering recommending additional curbs for Dublin and districts close to the border with Northern Ireland, where a six-week lockdown is under discussion, local media reported.

Germany’s new coronavirus cases increased at their fastest pace since the height of the pandemic in the latest sign of how Europe is struggling to keep the disease in check. The region’s largest economy will evaluate its own next steps on Wednesday.

“I’m watching with great concern the climbing infection numbers, actually in almost every part of Europe,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday in a virtual address to regional European Union officials. “We cannot squander what we’ve achieved in the last few months.”

Merkel stopped short of ruling out a second lockdown for her country, saying that authorities must seek to avoid such a step. She’s preparing to meet with the premiers of Germany’s 16 states on Wednesday to decide on measures such as testing in nursing homes and isolating travelers from high-risk areas.

Europe recorded 700,000 new cases last week, the most since the pandemic began, the World Health Organization said in its latest report. But rather than reviving national restrictions, officials are focusing on local measures amid concerns about hammering economies again and sparking unrest.

Relatively low hospitalization and death rates have fueled public resistance to harsher curbs. But authorities expect the number of severe cases to increase as more older people get infected and have warned citizens against thinking the virus has lost its bite.

Read more: Europe Braces for Surge in Covid Patients to Hit Hospitals Soon

“We need to be really careful right now,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, said Monday. The relationship between case numbers and deaths “could reconnect very, very badly and very catastrophically unless we’re very, very careful.”

map: Virus Spread © Bloomberg Virus Spread

The EU loosened aid rules to help fight the economic fallout from crisis. The bloc also sought to provide some clarity to a confusing array of travel rules, signing off on a common threshold for imposing entry restrictions.

Under the non-binding plan, unfettered travel will be allowed between regions with fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 people for the previous 14 days, and with fewer than 4% of tests showing positive results. No member state is currently below the threshold.

Tougher Rules

The Czech Republic, among the countries facing the fastest surge in recent weeks, banned alcohol consumption in public, limited outdoor gatherings to six people and closed down schools, restaurants and bars through early November.

Lawmakers in neighboring Slovakia quarreled over virus measures, with Premier Igor Matovic calling Economy Minister Richard Sulik a “saboteur” after the latter publicly questioned a decision to ban indoor serving of food and drinks in restaurants. Relations in the coalition have been fragile since elections seven months ago and Matovic’s ratings have dropped as people blame him for an inadequate response to the pandemic.

a man holding a wine glass: Daily Life As Prague Adapts To Tougher Covid-19 Measures © Getty Images Daily Life As Prague Adapts To Tougher Covid-19 Measures

A waiter closes a bar in Prague.

Photographer: Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday imposed new measures including ordering bars and restaurants to close by midnight, banning people from gathering outside them from 9 p.m., and limiting receptions for events such as weddings and baptisms to 30 people.

The latest set of regulations “will require new sacrifices,” Conte said Tuesday. Reiterating that the government’s goal is to avoid another crippling lockdown, Conte said that “to protect the economy and people’s health at the same time, we need to respect these rules.”

After putting six cities including Paris on maximum alert, French President Emmanuel Macron may announce additional restrictions during a planned television appearance on Wednesday.

“Alas, the epidemic continues its ascent,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said during parliamentary question time. “This wave of hospitalizations that has started is worrisome.”

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