Europe braces for impact of 2nd-wave pandemic restrictions

Millions of residents across Europe are bracing for what is likely to be a difficult winter ahead.After making the necessary sacrifices to get through the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, Europeans enjoyed a period of relative freedom — to return to schools and bars, fly between countries and go on holiday. But rising infections in the last month have forced governments to consider tightening restrictions again. While some countries have seen COVID-19 case numbers return to what they were before the spring, others are being hit harder than ever.For example, the Czech Republic warned earlier this week that the country's medical system could be on the brink of a breakdown."We are in danger of collapsing here," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek warned Czech media earlier this week. If the current outbreak, which saw a record 9,721 cases confirmed within a 24-hour period on Thursday, is not contained soon, Hamacek said, there will be "corpse freezers in the streets." The Czech government has rolled out new measures aimed at curbing the rapid spread, including the closure of bars and restaurants across the country until early November. It has further suspended sporting events, as well as access to movie theatres and museums, while restricting gatherings to groups of maximum six people. Other European countries that saw a significant surge during the first COVID-19 wave are seeing the return of restrictions that had been lifted in the spring and summer. While citizens of some countries are taking it in stride, others worry about the financial impact. For Clémence Vergès, a 28-year-old brand specialist with Amazon who had been planning to move from the Paris suburb of Colombes to London over the coming days, new coronavirus restrictions announced in France and Britain have caused confusion and uncertainty about the future."I've already changed ticket dates three times," Vergès said. "Every time, something new happens."She was supposed to make the move to London back in March, but her plans were cut short as the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and lockdown measures swiftly fell into place in both Britain's capital and Paris. Amazon allowed her to work from home in Colombes throughout the spring and summer. Now, as she awaits her upcoming flight, Vergès is anxious that she may not be able to go ahead with her move if the situation in either Britain or France worsens. France, Britain introduce new restrictionsOn Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron declared a state of emergency in France, with a new curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. being announced for the areas hit the hardest by the spread of COVID-19, including Paris.On Thursday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that London, along with other parts of Britain, would also be facing a new "tier" of measures starting Saturday in response to a resurgence in the spread of the disease.With 11 boroughs in London breaching the threshold of more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in a week, according to government data, the new Tier 2 rules will see a ban imposed on households mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants, while groups meeting outdoors will be limited to a maximum of six people. WATCH | New pandemic restrictions announced in Europe:While the rules include exceptions for schools, organized sports, weddings and funerals, the overall message is clear: as coronavirus rates rise, so, too, will the restrictions. Tier 3, the highest level in Britain, would see the imposition of a full lockdown, including no mixing of households indoors or outdoors. Britain and France are far from the only countries in Europe to re-introduce lockdown measures. On Oct. 9, Spain declared a state of emergency in the capital, Madrid, and surrounding areas, imposing new restrictions that are being enforced with the help of at least 7,000 police officers, according to the BBC. While city officials have pushed back against the restrictions, the government has maintained they are necessary to curb the spread of coronavirus. As of Friday, case numbers had reached more than 283,000 in Madrid alone, according to data published by the city's government. Meanwhile, more than 936,500 coronavirus cases had been identified across Spain, according to data from an online tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.People 'a little bit more used to it'While the rise in infections is concerning, Blake Ray, a 34-year-old American expat who has lived in Madrid for the past decade, said the second wave of lockdown measures feels much easier to grapple with than the first. "The first time, there was more of a lack of information and everybody was so scared and nobody was leaving [their homes]," Ray said. "But after they relaxed the regulations for a while, I think people just started getting a little bit back to normal, so now it doesn't seem quite the same as last time. Maybe we're all just a little bit more used to it."The fact that Spain hasn't enforced full lockdown measures, even in Madrid, has helped make things feel more "normal," he said."You can still meet up with groups of six people… you can still go to work and you can move around," Ray said. Although he also acknowledged that "we're not supposed to leave our neighbourhoods, so you can't see friends outside your neighbourhood anymore." This isn't especially restrictive for Ray and his wife, who are raising a one-and-a-half-year-old baby. "We hardly get out anymore anyway."One of his biggest concerns during the pandemic has been his business, which helps students in Europe find school placements in America. After some initial panic over a proposed plan from the U.S. government that would have put international students at risk of having to leave the U.S. during the pandemic, interest in his company's services has remained strong. In fact, Ray suspects the uncertainty in Europe right now has pushed young people to want to strengthen their resumes: "Because the economy is going down, people feel like they need to do something to distinguish themselves, like go to university in the U.S."Countries reliant on tourism, service industry most at riskWith a second wave of lockdown measures underway to varying extents, some European economies will be hit harder than others, said David Oxley, senior Europe economist at Capital Economics, a consultancy based in London.He compared the U.K. to Germany, which has extended a ban on large gatherings to the end of the year in areas with high infection rates, while making coronavirus testing and quarantine mandatory for people arriving from high-risk countries."I think it's going to be particularly damaging to countries where the service sector is a larger part of the economy," Oxley said. He noted that while stores, restaurants and bars might be forced to shut under stiffer lockdown measures, industries like manufacturing are likely to continue operating because it's easier to socially distance in that setting."The fact that Germany is more heavily weighted towards industry should mean that it avoids a deeper hit with its second round of restrictions than the U.K.," which relies more on its service industry, Oxley said. Meanwhile, countries dependent on tourism — in particular, winter tourism — are also likely to be hard hit by the re-introduction of coronavirus restrictions. "It's likely to be economically damaging for countries that rely on tourism more generally, but for countries like Sweden, Switzerland and Austria, which rely on winter tourism and the ski season… this season is going to be incredibly difficult," Oxley said. Unlike neighbouring countries, Sweden has remained open, with officials refusing to impose any lockdown just yet. The country has banned gatherings of more than 50 people and has strongly recommended that those over the age of 70 self-isolate. However, most of the efforts being taken to help curb the spread of coronavirus have been voluntary, with residents of the Scandinavian country largely following social distancing guidelines and working from home where it is feasible. Still, the rate of infection in the country continues to rise, though not as dramatically as in some other European countries. Overall, Oxley said, economists are expecting the financial impact from autumn and winter coronavirus measures "to be less severe than the first round." "I think that's for a variety of reasons, including that the restrictions themselves are not as blanket or draconian as we saw earlier this year," he said. Furthermore, "Businesses and individuals are better prepared this time around. It's more of a known quantity."

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