Businesses closed across Ireland yesterday for a second national coronavirus lockdown, as record infection surges in Germany and Italy helped spread gloom across the continent.
Most European governments have been reluctant to re-impose national stay-at-home orders after previous restrictions led to deep recessions and widespread bitterness.
But Ireland’s 5mn people have been ordered to stay at home for six weeks, with non-essential businesses told to shut up shop.
“It’s just that kind of cloud of sadness again that the city is abandoned,” Dubliner Sunniva O’Flynn told AFP during a muted morning rush hour yesterday.
Germany and Italy are both facing record surges, registering their highest one-day tallies since the pandemic began, and a slew of other European countries are voicing alarm at rapidly rising infections.
While German health experts said it is still possible to combat the outbreak by observing recently-toughened rules on distancing and gatherings, Italy ordered curfews in regions that cover the capital Rome and business hub Milan.
As Europe suffers, China – where the virus first emerged at the end of last year – continues to make strides back to normality, announcing that it would allow 10,000 fans to watch the final of its Super League football competition.
“It’d be that kind of ceiling because it’s a big game for sure,” Chinese Football Association secretary-general Liu Yi said.
The virus has killed more than 1.1mn people and prompted a catastrophic economic downturn, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicting a 4.4% drop in global output for 2020.
Germany, along with most European countries, has already banned large gatherings and made face masks compulsory in certain areas.
“The overall situation has become very serious,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre, adding that it was still possible to bring the virus under control through “systematic compliance with restrictive measures”.
In a symbol of Germany’s woes, Health Minister Jens Spahn – widely praised for his calm stewardship during the pandemic – tested positive and went into home isolation.
In Belgium, which has one of the worst rates of infections per person, Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes is being treated in intensive care after testing positive.
“She is conscious and she can communicate,” her spokeswoman said.
As stories of individual suffering emerge from the latest upsurge of cases in Europe, grim statistics are also stacking up – Spain becoming the sixth country to have registered more than 1mn infections.
And in Britain local lockdowns were coming into force even as a bitter political row over the measures remained unresolved.
More than 7mn people will face severe restrictions by the weekend, prompting opposition leader Keir Starmer – who wants a national “circuit break” lockdown – to warn of “months of agony” ahead.
Elsewhere in Europe, Swiss officials voiced alarm as infection rates there are now doubling every week, while Croatia’s government blamed “irresponsible behaviour” for another record day of new cases.
Cyprus joined a growing list of countries imposing curfews in its main cities, with Poland also promising to expand its restrictions.
As virus measures have torn through entire economic sectors – particularly travel and retail – millions have lost their jobs and many businesses have gone to the wall.
Even Europe’s economic powerhouse Germany has been plunged into recession, and a study published yesterday suggested that the situation could get even worse, predicting more than 1mn jobs could be lost in small and medium-sized enterprises.
The scramble to develop a vaccine, involving dozens of clinical trials across the world, also failed to lift the gloom yesterday, with a leading public health expert warning that none of the trials would prove whether a product could prevent people contracting Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Peter Doshi of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy also warned that no trials were evaluating the drugs for their efficacy in vulnerable groups such as older people.
“None of the trials currently under way are designed to detect a reduction in any serious outcome such as hospital admissions, use of intensive care, or deaths,” he wrote in the BMJ medical journal. “Nor are the vaccines being studied to determine whether they can interrupt transmission of the virus.”
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