Germany on Wednesday moved to shut down restaurants, bars and theaters all over again and France weighed demands for another nationwide lockdown as a new wave of coronavirus infections in Europe and the U.S. wipes out months of progress against the scourge on two continents.
The resurgence and the growing clampdown sent a shudder through financial markets, and stocks slumped.
“We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she announced a four-week partial lockdown starting Monday.
French President Emmanuel Macron planned an address Wednesday night as many French doctors urged a nationwide lockdown, with 58% of the country’s intensive care units now occupied by COVID-19 patients.
“We are deep in the second wave,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “I think that this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas.”
In the U.S., where practically every state is seeing a rise in cases, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker banned indoor dining and drinking in Chicago and limited the number of people gathering in one place.
“We can’t ignore what is happening around us, because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring,” he said.
The long-feared surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as the onset of cold weather, which is forcing people indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.
After a devastatingly lethal spring, Europe seemed to have beaten back the virus over the summer. Its success was seen as a reproach to the United States and an example of what the U.S. could accomplish if Americans would just stop their political infighting and listen to the scientists.
The S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq were all down in afternoon trading on Wall Street amid worries that fresh lockdowns and rollbacks of business will further drag down economies.
The virus is blamed for more than 250,000 deaths in Europe and about 227,000 in the U.S., according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
More than 2 million new confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported globally in the past week, the World Health Organization said. That is the shortest time ever for such an increase. Forty-six percent of the new cases were reported in Europe.
Von der Leyen said Europe is being confronted with “two enemies.”
“We’re dealing with the coronavirus — the virus itself — and also corona fatigue,” she said. “That is, people are becoming more and more fed up with the preventive measures.”
In the U.S., more than 71,000 people a day are testing positive on average, up from 51,000 two weeks ago. Cases are on the rise in all but two states, Hawaii and Delaware, and deaths are climbing in 39 states, with an average of 805 people dying in the U.S. per day, up from 714 two weeks ago.
Deaths are also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike from the previous week, the WHO said. France reported 523 virus-related deaths in 24 hours Tuesday, the highest daily count since April.
Belgium, the Netherlands, most of Spain and the Czech Republic are seeing similarly high rates of infection.
In Italy, where the Lombardy and Campania regionals are hardest hit, officials have accused right-wing extremists, soccer hooligans and anarchists of using widespread malcontent over new anti-virus restrictions on restaurants, gyms, pools and theaters as a pretext to wage “urban guerrilla” violence during recent protests.
Talks of new lockdowns has also prompted unrest in Germany, where thousands staged a protest at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to demand more financial support from the government.
Economists said further restrictions need to be carefully calibrated to avoid dealing a second severe blow to businesses.
“A national lockdown, as we have seen in, ravages an economy and would add significant complications to the ongoing economic recovery,” said Fiona Cincotta, an analyst at online trading firm GAIN Capital.
But Thomas Gitzel, chief economist at Liechtenstein’s VP Bank Group, said a short, strict lockdown could be effective and less harmful than a prolonged slump in consumer spending from persistently high infection levels.
“The strict containment measures in March and April laid the ground for an economically successful summer,” he said.
Even Sweden, which avoided a national lockdown and generally imposed far lighter measures than other European countries, is now urging people to avoid stores and public transportation.
Europe is an epicenter of COVID-19 right now, but it can bring the transmission under control again, hopefully without going into national lockdowns, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.
According to Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, last week 46 percent of all the global cases and nearly one third of all deaths were from the European region.
"There's no question that the European region is an epicenter for disease right now," he said at a press briefing, urging that countries need to get ahead and stay ahead of the virus, which may require a much more comprehensive nature of measures, such as restricting movement and staying-at-home orders.
Meanwhile, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 response at WHO Health Emergencies Program, said right now the worries in Europe are about the increase of hospitalizations in ICUs, where beds are filling up too quickly and could reach to capacity in the coming days and weeks.
But she seemed confident that Europe can bring transmission under control again, just like what has been done in spring and summer time this year, and it's hopeful that European countries will not need to go into national lockdowns. She urged European countries to use tools at hands, such as ample testing, finding suspect cases, and avoiding crowded space, to fight back against the pandemic.
Both the WHO experts believed that there have been multiple factors currently driving the positivity rate high in Europe, including improving and widening case detecting, which doesn't necessarily mean the overall size of the epidemic is growing at the same exponential rate as in the early period of 2020.
However, what's worrying is a shift in the average age of cases than in the spring, meaning more transmission in younger people than the older, as transmission in Europe has been detected recently in traveling, at some universities, in social gatherings, and at bars and restaurants, according to Van Kerkhove. She warned that the creeping up of average age in infection would result in the infection of older and vulnerable people, and in turn would eventually force up the mortality and ICU hospitalization.
As the world is caught in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries including France, Italy, China, Russia, Britain and the United States are racing to find a vaccine.
According to the website of the World Health Organization, as of Oct. 19, there were 198 COVID-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 44 of them were in clinical trials.
France has urged Middle Eastern countries to end calls for a boycott of its goods in protest at President Emmanuel Macron's defence of the right to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, reports BBC.
The French foreign ministry said the "baseless" calls for a boycott were being "pushed by a radical minority".
French products have been removed from some shops in Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.
Meanwhile, protests have been seen in Libya, Syria and the Gaza Strip.
The backlash stems from comments made by Mr Macron after the gruesome murder of a French teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class.
The president said the teacher, Samuel Paty, "was killed because Islamists want our future", but France would "not give up our cartoons".
Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad can cause serious offence to Muslims because Islamic tradition explicitly forbids images of Muhammad and Allah (God).
On Sunday, Mr Macron doubled down on his defence of French values in a tweet that read: "We will not give in, ever."
Political leaders in Turkey and Pakistan have rounded on Mr Macron, accusing him of not respecting "freedom of belief" and marginalising the millions of Muslims in France.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested, for a second time, that Mr Macron should seek "mental checks" for his views on Islam.
Similar comments prompted France to recall its ambassador to Turkey for consultations on Saturday.
How widespread is the boycott on French products?
Some supermarket shelves had been stripped of French products in Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait by Sunday. French-made hair and beauty items, for example, were not on display.
In Kuwait, a major retail union has ordered a boycott of French goods.
The non-governmental Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies said it had issued the directive in response to "repeated insults" against the Prophet Muhammad.
In a statement, the French foreign ministry acknowledged the moves, writing: "These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority."
Online, calls for similar boycotts in other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have been circulating.
A hashtag calling for the boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour was the second-most trending topic in Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's largest economy.
Meanwhile, small anti-French protests were held in Libya, Gaza and northern Syria, where Turkish-backed militias exert control.
Why is France embroiled in this row?
Mr Macron's robust defence of French secularism and criticism of radical Islam in the wake of Mr Paty's killing has angered some in the Muslim world.
Turkey's Mr Erdogan asked in a speech: "What's the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?"
Meanwhile Pakistani leader Imran Khan accused the French leader of "attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it".
"President Macron has attacked and hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world," he tweeted.
Earlier this month, before the teacher's killing, Mr Macron had already announced plans for tougher laws to tackle what he called "Islamist separatism" in France.
He said a minority of France's estimated six million Muslims were in danger of forming a "counter-society", describing Islam as a religion "in crisis".
Cartoons caricaturing the Islamic prophet have a dark and intensely political legacy in France.
In 2015, 12 people were killed in an attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published the cartoons.
Some in Western Europe's largest Muslim community have accused Mr Macron of trying to repress their religion and say his campaign risks legitimising Islamophobia.
Women’s rights activists in Poland staged protests during Sunday church services in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation against a tightening of the nation’s already restrictive abortion law.
In the fourth straight day of protests, activists held up banners during Masses in some churches, according to Polish media and posts on social media, reports AP.
A young woman in one Warsaw church stood near the altar with a sign that said “Let’s pray for the right to abortion.”
An LGBT rights group, Grupa Stonewall, posted a video showing people protesting in a church in the western Polish city of Poznan, chanting “We’ve had enough!” Churchgoers replied by chanting “Barbarians!”
Some Poles argued on Twitter that people should not bring politics into churches. Others said that Poland’s powerful Catholic Church had involved itself in politics by pushing for a total abortion ban and supporting the country’s right-wing government and far-right organizations in some cases.
The actions on Sunday follow a ruling on Thursday by Poland’s constitutional court that declared that aborting fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. Poland already had one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and the ruling will result in a near-complete ban on abortion.
Women’s Strike, the organizer of the protests, argues that forcing women to give birth to fetuses with severe defects will result in unnecessary physical and mental suffering.
The organization vowed more protests in the coming week, including blockades of cities on Monday, a nationwide strike by women on Wednesday and street protests on Friday.
The actions are planned at a time when the Polish government is struggling to contain escalating coronavirus cases and anger over restrictions that are harming the economy.
On Sunday, a banner with the slogan “Women’s Hell” was hung on a church fence in Otwock, a town near Warsaw.
The activists also created posters of a crucified pregnant woman intended for hanging outside churches, according to media reports, though it was not immediately clear how many were hung.
Thursday’s ruling came as Poland’s nationalist conservative ruling party has politicized the courts — including the Constitutional Tribunal — and used discriminatory language against LGBT people.
Last week, the president swore in a new education minister who has said that LGBT people are not equal to “normal people,” has argued in support of corporal punishment and said women’s key purpose in life is to have children.
Health Ministry figures show that 1,110 legal abortions were carried out in Poland in 2019, mostly because of fetal defects. The only other legal cases remaining for abortion are rape or incest or if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health.
Spain declared a second nationwide state of emergency Sunday and ordered an overnight curfew across the country in hopes of stemming a resurgence in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said.
The Socialist leader told the nation in a televised address that the extraordinary measure will go into effect on Sunday night, reports AP.
Sánchez said that his government is using the state of emergency to impose an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. nationwide curfew, except in the Canary Islands.
Spain’s 19 regional leaders will have authority to set different hours for the curfew as long as they are stricter, close regional borders to travel and limit gatherings to six people who don’t live together, the prime minister said.
“The reality is that Europe and Spain are immersed in a second wave of the pandemic,” Sánchez said after meeting with his Cabinet.
The leader added that he would ask Parliament this week to extend the state of emergency for six months, until May.
Sánchez’s government said Saturday night that a majority of Spain’s regional leaders have agreed to a new state of emergency and the meeting Sunday was to study its terms.
The state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers, including the ability to temporarily restrict basic freedoms guaranteed in Spain’s Constitution such as the right to free movement.
Spain’s government has already declared two state of emergencies during the pandemic. The first was declared in March to apply a strict home confinement across the nation, close stores and recruit private industry for the national public health fight. It was lifted in June after reigning in the contagion rate and saving hospitals from collapse.
The second went into effect for two weeks in Madrid to force the capital’s reluctant regional leaders to impose travel limits on residents to slow down an outbreak in which new infections were growing exponentially. It lasted until Saturday.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has said his agency and regional health officials were studying how to apply nightly curfews, perhaps like the 9 p.m. ones already in place in France’s major cities.
The state of emergency would make it easier for authorities to take swift action, avoiding having to get many of the restrictions approved by a judge. Some judges have rejected efforts to limit movement in certain regions, causing confusion among the public.
Government officials on all levels were reticent to impose another complete home lockdown and industry shutdown, given the weakened state of Spain’s economy, which has plunged into a recession and seen its unemployment rolls skyrocket in recent months.
Spain this week became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially recorded COVID-19 cases. But Sánchez admitted Friday in a nationally televised address that the true figure could be more than 3 million, due to gaps in testing and other factors.
Spain on Friday reported almost 20,000 new daily cases and 231 more deaths, taking the country’s death toll in the pandemic to 34,752.
Also read: Spain eases coronavirus restrictions