Europe responds to “second wave” with curfews and lockdowns

Europe is experiencing a major spike in new cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. Fortunately, that spike has not yet been accompanied by a major increase in deaths from the virus. Nonetheless, some European leaders have imposed stringent new measures in response to the spike in new cases.

Let’s look at the five major Western European nations — Spain, France, the UK, Italy, and Germany.

I’ll start with Spain, the first of the five to experience a significant second wave. Spain’s spike began in August. In late Spring, it was reporting fewer than 1,000 new cases per day. By late August, it was reporting more than 10,000, and is still doing so.

With a spike that began more than two months ago, you might expect a surge in deaths attributed to the virus. There has been an increase — from around zero in the summer to about 150-250 per day lately. However, that number pales in comparison to the 800 or more who were dying from the virus per day in early April.

Perhaps Spain soon will begin to see something approaching that high number of deaths. However, the number of daily deaths has been pretty stable for about a month.

Even so, Madrid and its surrounding areas are now on lockdown. After a court overturned a partial lockdown imposed by the central government, thanks to a challenge by the center-right party in power in Madrid, the socialist prime minister of Spain used his authority to impose a state of emergency order. All “non-essential” movement in and out of Madrid and nine other cities has been banned, despite the opposition of local authorities.

Other measures include:

Hotels and restaurants are limited to 50 percent capacity and doors must shut at 11:00 p.m.

Businesses are limited to 50 percent capacity and should shut by 10:00 p.m.

Family and social gatherings are limited to six people.

Places of worship are restricted to a third of normal attendance.

In France, the spike in new reported cases took hold around the beginning of September. By mid-month, France was reporting about 15,000 new cases per day, twice the number it reported at the peak of the first wave, albeit with more testing than at that time.

New cases have doubled since mid-September. France is now reporting around 30,000 new cases per day.

So far, however, there has not been a significant increase in deaths attributed to the virus. Most days, France reports fewer than 100 of them per day. In April, it was regularly reporting 1,000-1,500 per day.

Nonetheless, President Macron has reimposed a state of health emergency and has introduced a curfew. The curfew, to last for a month (at least), applies to Paris and surrounding areas, plus eight other metropolitan areas. It affects around 19 million people.

And there are new restrictions in other parts of the country, as well. For example, all private parties, including weddings, are banned in public event spaces.

The UK’s spike in cases is more recent than France’s. It occurred in late September, when the number of new reported cases began approaching 10,000 per day. Now, it is approaching 20,000.

One wouldn’t expect this spike to have resulted in a significant number of deaths yet, and it hasn’t. Deaths per day attributed to the virus are up, but have not yet reached 150.

The UK has announced new restrictions for Londoners. For example, they will be banned from meeting in groups of more than six anywhere indoors or outdoors.

The same rules apply to Liverpool. The central government imposed lesser restrictions elsewhere in the UK. However, local governments in Northern Ireland and Wales have opted for tighter restrictions than those imposed by the central government.

In the Spring, Italy was the original epicenter of Europe’s pandemic. At that time, it was reporting around 6,000 new cases per day. After a summer with few new cases, Italy saw the number of daily new cases reach the 6,000 mark in early October, and yesterday it reported nearly 9,000 new cases.

The number of deaths per day attributed to the virus has not yet reached 100. However, it has tripled in the past few days.

In response to the rising number of new cases, the government has started imposing restrictions. These include a prohibition on playing casual pickup sports, a midnight curfew for bars and restaurants, and a ban on private celebrations in public venues are banned. Masks are now mandatory outdoors.

Germany was the one major Western European nation that avoided a large death count from the first wave of the pandemic. On a per capita basis, the number of deaths attributed to the virus In Germany is about one-sixth of the number in other major Western European nations.

Germany has experienced a spike in new cases this Fall. It is reporting roughly as many new cases per day as it was in late March-early April (about 6,000). The daily death count remains low so far (about 30) but is triple what it was a month ago.

Angela Merkel has warned local authorities that they need to bring down the number of new cases quickly or face the imposition of tight restrictions. In response, Berlin imposed its first curfew in 70 years, as well as other restrictive measures. Frankfurt imposed a curfew, too.

The emergency measures being employed in these five countries are sold as temporary and brief — two weeks to a month, typically. I can understand the authorities wanting a pause until they can assess the extent to which the spike in new infections may be placing hospitals under too much stress.

However, it’s not clear how effective the new measures will be in keeping hospitalizations at a manageable level. It’s also far from clear that the measures will be lifted even if hospitals are in good shape when the curfew expiration dates arrive. The temptation might be to attribute that success to the restrictions and, therefore, to keep them in place.

I question whether Europe’s economies withstand another round of prolonged lockdowns.