The surge of coronavirus cases across Europe in recent days has brought renewed calls for a second lockdown to curb the spread of the disease before it’s too late.
In France, citizens were bracing for new restrictions ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s planned televised evening address to the nation later Wednesday.
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French doctors have called on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown as more than half of the country’s intensive care units are already occupied by COVID-19 patients. As hospitals fill up in one region, French military and commercial planes ferry critically ill virus patients elsewhere.
Daily new virus-related deaths also reached their biggest rise since May, with a reported 288 deaths in hospitals in 24 hours Tuesday and 235 deaths in nursing homes over the previous four days.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel said German officials have agreed to a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters, and other leisure facilities after the country’s health agency reported a record 14,964 new confirmed cases were recorded across the country in the past day.
“We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency,” Merkel said,
Shops and schools are to remain open, unlike during Germany’s shutdown during the first phase of the pandemic in March and April. Restaurants will be able to provide take-out food. It is set to take effect on Monday and last until the end of November.
Officials there have warned that the curve must be flattened now before hospital wards fill up.
Overall, Europe has seen more than 250,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the outbreak, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
“We are deep in the second wave,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. “I think that this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas.”
Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the Czech Republic have also seen a surge in new cases over the past 14 days.
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The Czech Republic further tightened measures Wednesday, imposing a nationwide curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., after already limiting free movement, closing stores, schools and restaurants, mandating face masks indoors and outdoors, and banning sport competitions. Even with these regulations, the case numbers there have continued to rise, hitting a record high of 15,663 on Tuesday.
The World Health Organization said the European region accounted for the biggest proportion of new cases, with more than 1.3 million reported cases or about 46% of the worldwide total, for the second consecutive week.
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The U.N. health agency said deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike since the previous week. The agency also noted that hospitalizations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 increased in 21 countries across Europe.
However, the growing toll of coronavirus restrictions has manifested itself into protests, where citizens sometimes violently vent their anger.
In the Czech Republic’s capital of Prague, demonstrators in horror masks marched against virus restrictions Wednesday.
Thousands of venue owners in Germany’s hospitality industry staged a peaceful protest Wednesday at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate to demand further financial support from the government.
Protesters turned out by the hundreds in Turin, Milan and other Italian cities and towns Monday after the government forced restaurants and cafes to close early and shuttered cinemas, gyms and other leisure venues.
In Italy’s business capital, Milan, police used tear gas to scatter protesters Monday night, and an Associated Press journalist saw at least two people detained.
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Even as the rising tide of cases sweeps across Europe, the countries reporting the highest number of cases worldwide remained unchanged, according to WHO. These countries were India, the U.S., France, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.