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Corona virus written with scrabble letters (Photo: Glen Carrie on Unsplash)
22 October 2020

Governments warn of new lockdowns

Europe | Governments across Europe have enforced new restrictions to slow the spread of covid-19. Unable to prevent people from socialising and fearful of the consequences of another lockdown, they resort to the only measure they have: closing pubs and bars.

Governments are struggling with a sharp rise in infections, especially among the young, as the pandemic’s second wave arrives ahead of the northern hemisphere’s flu season.

The Brussels Region decided to close all bars and pubs on 7 October 2020 and banned drinking in public places. The measures will last for at least a month. Only restaurants are allowed to stay open.

Paris, too, has closed its bars, while Spain, after intense political feuding, ordered its capital Madrid into another lockdown – becoming the first European capital to re-enter lockdown.

France has since stepped up its measures and put Paris and eight other cities under a night-time curfew between 9pm and 6am as of 17 October. Residents will not be able to go to restaurants or visit private homes during these hours. Anyone found transgressing the new rules will be fined EUR 135 (USD 159).

The Czech government also announced the closure of bars, restaurants and schools, that will apply until early November.

Public suffering from pandemic fatigue

Scotland ordered all pubs and restaurants in the central belt (the area between Edinburgh and Glasgow) to close for two weeks until 25 October. They can still serve alcohol as a takeaway, though. In Northern Ireland the hospitality sector was shuttered until mid-November.

On 14 October, Germany recorded the highest number in daily covid-19 infections ever. Following an eight-hour meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state premiers, new measures were agreed, which include limits on the number of people at private gatherings and a curfew for bars and restaurants at 11 pm in areas deemed hotspots.

Ms Merkel has repeatedly said she wants to avoid renewed shutdown of social and economic life like in spring, which already cost the government EUR 200 billion in new debt. She appealed to the country’s younger citizens to avoid parties for now so that they can enjoy life later.

It is a big problem for governments that people across Europe seem to be suffering from what has been called “pandemic fatigue”. It is telling that people are either confused or won’t listen to guidance because cases continue to explode, including in places where stricter measures have already been put in place.

Portugal, for example, ordered new restrictions in September, but in early October recorded daily infection rates last seen in April. In northern England, where new rules have come and gone and come again, the most tangible result has been the sowing of confusion, not the slowing of contagion, media say.

Pub closures a token measure?

Governments are treading a narrowing course between keeping the virus in check and what their publics and economies will tolerate. That is especially so in democracies, where governments are ultimately answerable to the voters.

With Britain expected to announce even more sweeping measures, many focused on curbs to drinking and carousing, the government is at odds to provide hard evidence that early pub closing hours help slow transmission. The virus, which thrives on human contact, still depends on individuals changing their behaviour.

 

The only way out for governments is to impose another full lockdown, the pitfall of which can be witnessed in Israel. It has led to chaos and rampant protests.

 

While issues around mask wearing and other prudent measures remain far less controversial in Europe than in the US, the prospect of a winter under tight restrictions or even lockdowns is stirring new frustration.

 

But if people refuse to stick to guidance, it remains to be seen if steep punishments will chasten them.