The European Union Commission, along with several other European nations, enacted a 4-week “lockdown” to combat resurgences in Coronavirus cases across Europe. The second lockdown began earlier in November and is scheduled to last until the beginning of December, in most countries.
“We are deep in the second wave,” according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The second lockdown came with flu season in Europe as all 44 nations spanning the continent saw a spike in reported cases in August, according to Euronews. In many of the countries the reported number of COVID-19 cases is more than double what the country was experienced during its first lockdown.
In Belgium, with a population of 11.46 million, the daily case peak for the second shutdown reached nearly 9.5 times higher than the daily peak recorded during the initial shutdown, reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. While France leads the European countries in most reported cases quickly nearing 2 million with a daily peak of 86,852 cases on Nov. 8 (almost 11.5 times higher than its peak in April). Despite these record numbers, some European residents say that this second shutdown was not nearly as strict as the first.
“Overall this shutdown is pretty different. They call it a ‘light lockdown’,” compared to the hard lockdown that was put in place in the beginning of the year, says Tessa Newall, a 22-year-old resident of Heidelberg, Germany. “The only things that closed are bars, cafes, and hotels,” with schools remaining open during this second instance of sheltering in place.
The first quarter of Europe’s 2020 was characterized by closed borders, widespread municipal lockdowns, and tens of thousands of COVID-19 related deaths. Initially, Europe followed in the footsteps of many Asian countries that had already combatted the virus, by enforcing strict lockdowns. Newall says she recalls the first lockdown in Germany being characterized by empty streets. German residents were only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons and could not be found with people outside their household or in groups larger than three (which would still elicit stares).
Newall recalls this lockdown lasting for about two months with some businesses slowly but surely beginning to open in April, a sense of normalcy completely returning by mid-May. Like Germany, most countries within the E.U. were successful in substantially reducing the number of daily COVID cases. They began lifting internal travel bans by June 15 and by July 1 E.U countries opened their borders to 14 non-union countries that the E.U. Commission marked “safe.”
“The European Union has an internal process to determine from which countries it would be safe to accept travelers,” E.U. Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said on June 25. Brazil, Qatar, the U.S. and Russia were specifically excluded from the list of acceptable countries due to their poor epidemiological practices.
According to the World Health Organization, Europe housed close to half of the 2.8 million new COVID-19 cases reported globally in the third week of October. The U.N. health agency also reported that coronavirus-related deaths spiked 35 percent from the previous week, which prompted the early November shutdown. In the most recent data, WHO attributes almost 30 percent of the world’s total coronavirus cases to Europe.
Germany was one of the European countries to steadfastly combat the initial COVID-19 problem head on. German officials implemented the first lockdown promptly. Newall says she remembers her entire life becoming accessible from her laptop virtually overnight and she quickly realized she had very little need to even leave her residence.
In addition to a rise in cases reported nationally, local implementations of shutdowns in Bavaria, a landlocked state in Germany, really drove the second lockdown. The decision came after various meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors. “We only need infection numbers to double another four times and the health system is finished,” Merkel told reporters. Her goal is to lift the national lockdown and sanction in time for the holidays but she’s wearied of an approaching long and hard winter.
Late September was characterized by small shutdowns here and there, in France. The country was closing October with government implemented curfews (businesses to be closed by 9 pm daily) affecting two thirds of the nation.
“It’s impossible to keep the French indoors. It’s just not in the nature of the people,” says Sundus Khan, a 21-year-old Paris resident. She says she is not surprised that cases continued to rise following the small measures taken to slow the Coronavirus in September and October. Nor is she surprised that numbers are still increasing. “We’re outside, social people,” she says.
In some instances, France’s reinstatement of the national lockdown has incited backlash more severe than Khan’s.
Small businesses are most affected by the rules regarding closures. Many claim that they’re being subjected to unfair competition from retailers with more resources to remain open, such as Amazon.
“We want to open, open, open!” Francis Palombi, head of the Confédération des Commerçants de France, told French radio. “Sending commerce to big stores and online giants risks being fatal for our businesses,” he said.
“I feel the frustration of [small businesses],” Khan says as she explains that she cannot stand to be indoors during the gloomy season in Paris. “People aren’t following restrictions because they’re fed up, and police aren’t roaming around as they did before” to give fines to people out without proper attestation.
Spain announced a second state of emergency regarding COVID-19 and set a national curfew beginning at 11 p.m. The country’s national government has urged local authorities to set their own specific, regional restrictions and suggests travel bans between the regions.
Contrary to how strict the newly implemented guidelines are in Spain, parliament set the restrictions to be in place for only 15 days; compared to many nations choosing to close for about four weeks. The lockdown has yet to be extended.