As large parts of Europe prepare to reinforce restrictions following a surge of coronavirus cases, it seems clear that efforts to rein in the spread of the disease while resuming economic activity may have come a cropper.
Certainly, the responses from the United Kingdom, France and Belgium suggest that the prognosis is far from optimistic. Even as anger rises over the rising economic and public health costs of responses that have generally been perceived as confused, the UK has announced that London and adjoining Essex, both densely populated, would be placed on high alert.
This means restrictions on travel of people, who can no longer meet those outside their immediate family either at home or in social settings. A plan to put Manchester under very high alert is under consideration, and this will mean closing pubs and restaurants and preventing people from leaving the area. Already, concerns have been raised that with the brakes put on economic activity, the UK may see poorer people turn destitute and there is anger at the government’s belief that people will somehow make do.
In France, tighter restrictions will mean night curfews in Paris and other cities and Belgium has announced that all cafes and restaurants will have to remain shut for the next four weeks.
Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Georges Gilkinet has warned that the situation is serious from a health point of view”, and the measures were necessary to “prevent our healthcare system from becoming saturated”.
The UK, which has the highest death toll in the continent, has seen a surge of close to 15,000 cases a day, while the situation is grimmer in France with rises in cases of up to 30,000 a day having been recorded in the past week.
The announcement of night curfews that affect 30 per cent of the country’s population was greeted with a “last night” binge by the French, as they indulged themselves with bar and café hopping in scenes some said were reminiscent of New Year’s Eve.
The consequences of this final indulgence will be known in the days to come. But the concern is greatest among those unable to frequent restaurants, for reports suggest that new infections have been rising rapidly among senior citizens.
France’s public health agency has warned that the situation in retirement homes is now “very serious”. The severe containment measures appear to have popular support with the vast majority of those polled supporting night curfews even as civic officials expressed concern at the high economic cost France is likely to pay as a result of the clampdown that could be extended from four to six weeks if the situation does not improve.
About the only silver lining for residents of affected French cities is that no travel restrictions have been put in place. This may lead to an exodus to the country or to smaller coastal towns.