Header Ads

Breaking News

Shutdowns Spread Across Europe as Spain and France Order Broad Restrictions


PARIS — The shutdown of Europe expanded drastically on Saturday as more countries shuttered businesses, locked up borders and chased people off streets and into their homes in a race to contain the growing threat of the coronavirus.

Spain became the second country in Europe, after Italy, to impose strict limits on public life, telling everyone to stay indoors, with few exceptions. As cases soared nationwide, the authorities confirmed that the prime minister’s wife had been infected.

In France, cafes and restaurants — central to the country’s soul and social life — were ordered closed along with most other nonessential businesses.

In the United States, Vice President Mike Pence widened the American travel ban to include Britain and Ireland, effectively shutting off travel from nearly 30 European countries, while the White House said that President Trump had tested negative for the virus.

Across Europe, there was a widespread feeling that the health crisis flaying Italy for weeks had arrived at the doorsteps of its neighbors, and that the time for hoping the threat would somehow dissipate without sweeping intervention was over.

Until Saturday, cafes in Paris had been full of revelers and restaurants had been doing good business, even without tourists. But then French officials said the crisis could be disregarded no longer.

The time of classic Parisian nonchalance had come to an end.

“In France, when you tell people to stay home, they go to bars to celebrate the closure,” said Hélène Noaillon, a bartender at Les Pères Populaires, reacting to news of the closures on Saturday night while the bar was still open.

“Our society is more libertarian,” she said. “As long as you don’t put people under any real constraints, they’re going to continue to live the way they want.”

While some European leaders, like President Emmanuel Macron of France, have called for intensifying cooperation across nations, others are trying to close their countries off.

From Denmark to Slovakia, governments went into aggressive virus-fighting mode with border closures.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said all foreigners who did not have an essential purpose for visiting the country would be turned away. Passenger ferries and trains will stop running, but cargo transports will continue. The measures will be in effect until at least April 13.

Poland planned to close its borders at midnight and deny all foreigners entry. The Czech Republic and Slovakia followed suit. Lithuania announced border checks at the frontiers with Poland and Latvia. Still, it is at best unclear whether closing borders is an effective means of containing the virus.

In France, there was a sense that a general lockup might now be the only way to at least slow the spread of the disease domestically. On Saturday night, French officials scolded their fellow citizens in announcing the new closures, which extend to virtually all businesses except those deemed essential, like grocery stores, banks and gas stations.

Previous declarations against large gatherings had been ignored, they warned. The result was more infections, more hospitalizations and more deaths.

“The first measures taken to limit gatherings have been imperfectly applied,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said. “I say it with all seriousness: Together we must show more discipline in implementing these measures.”

He called on the French to avoid family gatherings and nonessential travel. But, baffling to commentators, Mr. Philippe insisted at the same time that Sunday’s municipal elections would go ahead as planned.

The drastic new measures in France came in reaction to a doubling of infections in the last 72 hours to 4,500. There have been 91 deaths, and 300 people are in critical condition.

In Spain, the outbreak is even worse. At least 6,200 are infected, and 190 have died.

On Saturday, the Spanish authorities said the wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Begoña Gómez, had tested positive for the virus.

A day after declaring a state of emergency, Spain’s divided government argued all day about what concrete steps to take to combat the virus. After a seven-hour meeting, the government decreed a nationwide lockdown, extending the kind of measures that various regional authorities — including in the capital, Madrid, and in Catalonia — had already taken in recent days.

Madrid, normally one of Europe’s most bustling cities with thousands of bars and cafes, resembled a ghost town on Saturday, as its 3.5 million residents started to follow the advice of the authorities to stay at home.

The train stations and main avenues were almost deserted. Only stores providing basic services — like supermarkets and gas stations — were allowed to stay open.

The government said people could leave their homes to buy food, to go to work if they cannot work remotely, to seek health care, or to assist the elderly and others in need. The government also ordered all schools, restaurants, bars and nonessential stores to close.

“We’re the new Italy,” said Francisco Gutierrez, a 33-year-old street cleaner for the city of Madrid. “We don’t know how long it’s going to last, and we don’t know how much Spain will suffer from this yet.”

Mr. Sánchez has warned that the number of coronavirus cases in Spain could reach 10,000 next week, given how sharply infections have been rising.

In Britain and Ireland, the new ban on travelers heading to the United States will go into effect as of midnight on Monday, American officials said Saturday. It follows the strictures on travel from the Continent announced by Mr. Trump on Wednesday, which were widely criticized in Europe. The new ban got a similar reception in Britain on Saturday.

“It’s a complete and utter waste of time,” said Roy Anderson, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London.

Britain continued to resist the main measure taken by much of Europe, however: the banning of large gatherings.

Pro-Brexit campaigners had treated Britain’s previous exemption from the ban as a vindication of the country’s decision to cut ties with the European Union. “The U.K. is now treated as an independent country,” Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, said triumphantly last week.

But Brexit champions were largely silent on Saturday as Britain, which has recorded 1,140 infections and 21 deaths from coronavirus, was added to the list.

The new measures across Europe reflected a growing awareness that delayed action or intervention could lead to an outbreak like the one in Italy. In that country, more than 21,000 people have been sickened, more than 1,400 have died, and doctors and nurses have been so overwhelmed that they have had to choose whom to treat and whom to leave to fend for themselves.

France declared that it had entered the most serious threat level from the epidemic — Phase 3 — an announcement that citizens and commentators had been awaiting with dread.

“Up until now, the French have not sufficiently become aware of their role facing the virus,” one of the country’s top health officials, Jérôme Salomon, said. “It is urgent — it is now that you need to change behavior.”

A half-dozen French lawmakers and several government ministers have been infected. Sunday’s elections in France, for mayors and city councils, have been regarded as a critical referendum on Mr. Macron’s reformist government, though turnout is now expected to be low.

Beyond the elections, France has yet another coronavirus problem to tackle: a cruise ship headed its way.

An Italian couple tested positive for the coronavirus in San Juan, Puerto Rico, late on Friday after disembarking from the cruise ship. Costa Cruises, an Italian subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corporation, says the ship is now heading to Marseilles, France.

But the closing of restaurants and cafes in France, major elements of the country’s symbolic heart, is certain to bring the crisis home in a way that nothing has so far. Even the closing of museums and major tourist attractions, announced Friday, don’t compare.

Commentators on French television Saturday night noted that even during the German occupation, bars and restaurants stayed open.

On Saturday night, a Paris reveler, Clémence Jamult, a 39-year-old history teacher, said the closures meant “the end of a very French way of life.”

“It’s a special moment,” she added. Others said it was inevitable.

“It’s a little sad to come to this, but it’s a necessary decision,” said Ms. Noaillon, the bartender, adding that French people were barely respecting the rules of “social distancing” urged on them by the government earlier in the week.

Adam Nossiter reported from Paris, and Raphael Minder and Elian Peltier from Madrid. Reporting was contributed by Benjamin Mueller from London, Constant Meheut and Aurelien Breeden from Paris, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington.

Source link

No comments