France and the U.K. reported the most new coronavirus cases since May for the second day in a row, underscoring Europe’s risk of a return to lockdowns that crippled the economy in the second quarter.
With Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 and infections running at the fastest pace since the start of the outbreak, France’s policy of avoiding another national lockdown in favor of local measures is under strain.
“All indicators for monitoring the Covid-19 epidemic point sharply upward,” including admissions to intensive care at hospitals and cases among people age 75 and older, the French public health agency said in a statement on Saturday.
From Ireland to Greece, Europeans headed into the weekend facing new restrictions on public life, including a 1 a.m. closing time for Amsterdam bars and limits on gatherings in Athens. Spain plans to test 1 million people in the Madrid capital region — about every seventh resident — over the next week to get a better grip on its resurgent outbreak.
Paris shoppers browse food stalls in the 18th arrondissement on Sept. 18.
Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg
France is seeing the most cases since a national lockdown ended in May, with new infections exceeding 13,000 for a second consecutive day. The U.K. reported 4,422 more cases on Saturday, the most since May 8. Another 27 people died in Britain.
Authorities in Spain, which has the most cases in Europe, banned non-essential movement in 37 hot spots in and around Madrid, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak.
“Another lockdown would be an economic disaster,” Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the Madrid regional president, told reporters on Friday. “We need to use all means at our disposal to avoid it.”
Germany added 2,179 cases on Friday, the second day in a row with more than 2,000 new infections — a pace not seen since April.
Read more: France’s Le Maire Tests Positive for Covid-19
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, asked for an emergency U.K. cabinet meeting to coordinate policy after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said restrictions may need to “go further.” Comments by Johnson and cabinet members have led to speculation the country may be headed for a short second lockdown after some three months in the spring.
The U.K. is facing a “perfect storm” after easing controls over the summer, former government adviser Neil Ferguson told the BBC on Saturday. Johnson’s government needs to resume some nationwide measures “sooner rather than later” to prevent a new surge leading to more deaths, said Ferguson, an Imperial College London professor whose modeling led to the U.K. lockdown in March.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan sounded the alarm late Friday, saying it’s “increasingly likely” that “additional measures will soon be required” in the city to slow the spread of the virus.
He faulted Johnson’s government for deficiencies in U.K. virus testing.
“The best thing for both public health and the economy is new restrictions imposed early, rather than a full lockdown when it’s too late — but the government must urgently ensure there is a fully functioning testing system,” the London mayor said in a statement.
Johnson told reporters earlier Friday “there’s no question” that the U.K. is “now seeing a second wave coming in.”
“We want to try and keep all parts of the economy open as far as we possibly can — I don’t think anybody wants to go into a second lockdown,” he told reporters. “But clearly, when you look at what is happening, you have got to wonder whether we need to go further.”
Health officials blame the surge on social gatherings, especially among younger people, and on travelers bringing the virus back from vacation. The upward trend threatens to derail Europe’s tentative revival if the pandemic forces governments generally averse to lockdowns to change course.
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