Published: 11:02, October 30, 2020 | Updated: 13:02, June 5, 2023
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Lockdowns underscore stakes in EU
By Chen Weihua in Brussels

A cafe worker watches on Wednesday as French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the nation in a televised speech, announcing new measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP)

France and Germany, the two largest economies in the European Union, announced new nationwide lockdowns in a bid to curb the rapid spread of a new wave of coronavirus cases.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a prime-time TV address on Wednesday night that a nationwide lockdown would be imposed from Friday to Dec 1.

"We have been overwhelmed by the rapid acceleration of COVID-19," he said, adding that "all French regions are now on high alert".

France had reported 217,797 new cases in the seven days to Tuesday, with 1,243 deaths, bringing the total cases and deaths to 1.13 million and 34,721, respectively, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus is in circulation at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated.

Emmanuel Macron, French President

The new restrictions require people to stay at home except for when they shop for groceries, seek medical care and use the one hour of exercise time they are allocated each day.

Schools and day care centers will remain open. People who won't be able to work from home, such as construction workers, will still be allowed to go to work.

"The virus is in circulation at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated,"Macron said in announcing the second national lockdown, after an eight-week one imposed in spring.

Macron said the lockdown measures will be assessed every 15 days and could be eased gradually once new daily cases fall below the 5,000-mark.

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Just hours before Macron's speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced bars and restaurants will be shut, though with takeout services allowed for the latter. Many nonessential businesses across the country also will be forced to close their doors and contacts between households will be limited.

"We have to act now to avoid an acute national emergency," Merkel said. "If infections continue at this rate, we will be at the limits of the capacities of our health system."

Germany saw 67,207 new cases and 255 deaths from COVID-19 over the week to Tuesday, according to the WHO. Its total cases reached 449,275.

Before her announcement, Merkel held talks with leaders of the country's 16 states, which get to decide their own lockdown measures under the law. They agree to apply the same conditions across the country from Nov 2 until the end of the month.

Contacts limited

Under the partial lockdown measures, members of a household are allowed to meet with members of only one other household outdoors.

Theaters, fitness centers and other nonessential businesses will also have to close, but soccer games will be allowed to proceed without spectators in the stadiums. Schools and nurseries will remain open, as will hairdressers.

"We have considered these measures very carefully," Merkel said.

"That is why today is a difficult day because we know what we are expecting people to do."

Many EU states, such as Italy, Spain and Belgium, have tightened restrictions in the past week. Belgium, which reported 1,391 new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks, is the worst hit in Europe, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The center has described the epidemiological situation in 23 of the 27 EU member states as being "of serious concern".

Opposition to new lockdown measures in Europe are on the rise with protests in the past days in cities in Italy, Germany, France and Belgium.

Globally, there were 44,495,972 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,174,225 deaths as of Thursday, according to a tally kept by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

READ MORE: Australia's coronavirus epicenter to ease curbs after no new cases

Chen Yingqun in Beijing, agencies contributed to the story.

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