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Key European markets tighten Covid-19 restrictions

It's curtains for most Christmas events in Germany, the Netherlands, parts of the UK and more as coronavirus restrictions leave many Europeans housebound

By IQ on 15 Dec 2020

German chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Christmas shopping for Covid-19 infections remaining high

German chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Christmas shopping for Covid-19 infections remaining high


European countries including Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the Czech Republic have pulled the plug on indoor events over the festive period with tough new restrictions on both organised and informal gatherings.

Germany, Europe’s largest concert market, yesterday (14 December) became the latest European nation to announce it would impose a ‘hard’ lockdown on its citizens over the Christmas break, closing all non-essential shops and schools and banning the mixing indoors of more than two households, with the exception of 24–26 December.

German chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Christmas shopping for Covid-19 infections continuing to rise throughout November, with over 16,000 new cases as of yesterday.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday appealed to Germans to support the new lockdown measures, which will run until 10 January 2021. “The virus still has a tight grip on us,” he said. “The situation is bitterly serious: Thousands of death cases in one week and an infection scenario that threatens to spin out of control. There is no way we can avoid [these] drastic measures.”

Despite German company BioNTech’s vaccine (co-developed with Pfizer) being approved for use in nearby Britain, Germany is still waiting for regulatory approval from the EU’s European Medicines Agency.

In the Netherlands, which only went into partial, or ‘intelligent’, lockdown in March, even schools and non-essential shops will also be forced to close for the first time as the country’s new daily cases of Covid-19 exceeded 8,500.

“The virus still has a tight grip on us. The situation is bitterly serious”

According to the AFP, “protesters could be heard whistling and shouting outside” the office of Dutch prime minister Rutte’s office as he announced the Netherlands will “close for five weeks” from today (15 December) to 19 January.

“We’re not dealing with a simple flu like the people behind us think,” he said in a televised address, referring to the anti-lockdown protesters.

All non-essential shops, as well as museums, zoos, cinemas and gyms, will close, while people were told to stay at home and can have a maximum of two guests per day (with the exception of Christmas, when they may have three).

“We need to bite this very sour apple before things get better. And yes they will get better. There will come a time when coronavirus will be behind us, when our lives will be normal again,” Rutte continued.

“It won’t be now, or in a week, or a month. But with the vaccine, 2021 will indeed be a year of hope and of light at the end of the tunnel.”

In Britain, meanwhile, only Cornwall and the the tiny Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly remain in ‘tier one’, or medium alert, under which events are permitted at 50% of a venue’s capacity, or 1,000 people indoors (whichever is lowest). The rest of the country is in tier two (high alert) or, increasingly, tier three (very high alert), under which no events are permitted.

“With the vaccine, 2021 will be a year of hope and of light at the end of the tunnel”

Announcing the placing of London and much of south-east England into tier three – effectively a regional lockdown – as of tomorrow (16 December), health secretary Matt Hancock says: “I know that this is difficult news. I know it will mean plans disrupted, and that for businesses affected, this will be a very significant blow.

“[But] this action is absolutely essential, not just to keep people safe, but because as we’ve seen early action can help prevent more damaging and longer lasting problems later.”

British scientists are also warning of a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus believed to be responsible for the spike in the south-east.

“The live music industry in London has worked so hard to make venues Covid-secure, so it’s a huge blow to be forced to close again,” says Phil Bowdery, chair of the Concert Promoters Association. “This will lead to the collapse of hundreds of gigs, from grassroots music venues to shows at the Royal Albert Hall and the SSE Arena, Wembley, with the loss of more than 6,000 much-needed shifts for staff or freelancers.

“The government must ensure they are providing real support for the industry until it can recover to protect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and businesses across the UK. It’s particularly hard to understand why people in London will be able to go into crowded shops this weekend, but will not be able to attend a carefully controlled, socially distanced music venue.”

Restaurants, hotels and indoor venues in the Czech Republic will also close again from Friday (18 December) after having reopened just two weeks ago, Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš announced yesterday.

“If we do not want to undergo a third lockdown, we must redouble our vigilance”

Public gatherings will be limited to six people indoors and out, instead of the current ten and 50, respectively, Reuters reports, with a nationwide curfew from 11pm until 5am, though shops will remain open.

“This year’s Christmas will be totally different, but that is the result of the situation we are in,” Czech health minister Jan Blatný told reporters.

Bucking the trend towards tighter restrictions is France, which ended its latest national lockdown today, although strict measures remain in place limiting travel, shopping and socialising over the Christmas holidays.

Per The Local, though French people no longer require permission to leave the house, bars, restaurants and cafés remain closed, while a planned reopening of cultural venues such as concert halls and theatres on 15 December has been pushed back to 7 January.

Additionally, a curfew covering the entirety of metropolitan France will run from 8pm to 6am, with €135 fines for those caught out and about at night without a valid excuse.

According to French president Emmanuel Macron, while the country has passed the worst of the second wave of the disease, “if we do not want to undergo a third lockdown, we must redouble our vigilance: protect our loved ones, especially the most vulnerable, by wearing a mask, including at home when we are with friends or with relatives who do not live with us.”

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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