Europe Again Considers Whether to Lock Down Amid Coronavirus
“Liverpool is full of the kind of people who go out on a Monday, and couldn’t care less about Tuesday morning,” George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, once said of his hometown.
But they won’t be doing that next week — and are unlikely to be doing so in the foreseeable future, possibly for as long as six months.
Liverpudlians, more often known as Scousers, a reference to a cheap stew eaten by the city’s seafarers in the 19th century, have been placed in the highest tier of a new, tough pandemic lockdown system announced Monday by Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson.
Pubs, bars, fitness and leisure centers, casinos and betting shops in the city are to close starting Wednesday. Restaurants, schools and universities will remain open, but only if they observe strict guidelines.
Angry business owners in the city of half-a-million say it could be the final nail in the coffin for their ventures. They are trying to figure out how they’ll survive the next few months and save the jobs of employees. Affected businesses will be getting some financial support from the government, but they say it is not enough.
Gareth Morgan, the owner of an independent pub called Dead Crafty Beer Co., told the BBC the lockdown will “really hurt, if not ruin” the industry. He also worries what will happen to his five workers, if he goes under. Even restaurant owners sound a gloomy note, despite the fact they can remain open, saying their trade has dropped off by about 80 percent. Peter Kinsella, a co-owner of a tapas restaurant called Lunya, predicts “a vast amount of redundancies across the city.”
“We are a really strong, successful viable business. Over that 10 years we’ve paid over £8 million ($10 million) in tax, one small, little family-owned restaurant. The government can’t afford to lose the likes of us. That taxation is going to be what pays the country’s debt,” he told reporters.
Liverpool has one of the highest infection rates in Europe. Hospital and intensive care admissions are rising sharply and are approaching levels seen at the start of the pandemic in April. And the government says it has no choice but to lock down.
Johnson unveiled a new, three-tier COVID-19 rules system Monday for England — an attempt to “simplify and standardize” rules while avoiding a new, full national lockdown. Those towns or regions in the top two tiers face onerous economy-deadening restrictions.
“This is not how we want to live our lives, but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the massive human, and indeed economic, cost of an uncontained epidemic,” he said.
It might not be enough. England is approaching the pandemic levels seen earlier in the year. Other western European countries are experiencing terrible surges.
On Monday, Italy, which had managed to keep its infection numbers lower the last few months than its continental neighbors, announced renewed restrictions — ones that had been shelved just a few months ago. Daily, new coronavirus cases in Italy doubled last week, topping 5,000 Friday for the first time since March. They rose Saturday to close to 6,000, easing slightly this week but still alarmingly high.
Now Italians are being told to wear face masks even in their own homes, if someone visits. The new rules restrict gatherings and impact restaurants, bars, sports and school activities. Groups of more than six are banned in restaurants, clubs or even outside. Measures have been tightened in the Netherlands and France, too.
Following a dramatic rise in infections in the Czech Republic, one that’s transformed the country from being one of the continent’s pandemic success stories into Europe’s fastest-growing hotspot, the government announced Tuesday tough restrictions, imposing a three-week state of emergency to combat coronavirus. Schools, bars and clubs will be closed — so, too, university hostels. Restaurants can remain open but with restrictions. The shutdown will last until November 3.
A new peak of 8,618 cases was recorded Friday in the country of 10.7 million, up more than 3,000 from the previous day. Spain, with a population of about 47 million and currently the second worst-affected country, documented 12,788 infections Friday.
It remains in doubt whether the lockdowns will work. Some cities have seen rates go up even though they have been placed under localized lockdowns. Johnson has warned he may have to impose further restrictions. His warning appears to have been shaped by the gloomy assessment of his own scientific advisers.
Documents released by one of the key committees of experts advising the British government had urged the government to go further, and in fact, recommended the national closure of all pubs, restaurants, cafés, gyms and hairdressers, a ban on household mixing, and a requirement for all university teaching to take place online.
The just-announced three-tier alert system is doomed to fail, according to Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London. He is one of the government’s own advisers and has publicly said the new restrictions won’t be enough to stop a rising number of cases.
But the imposition of more restrictions is prompting a growing backlash, too — from lawmakers in Johnson’s ruling Conservative party, from businesses and from other scientists, who are increasingly questioning the advocates of lockdowns. They say that countries have to adjust better to living with the coronavirus — that it will be a long-term public health threat, even when vaccines are distributed as they are unlikely to prove much more than 60% effective.
They say there doesn’t have to be such a bleak trade-off between lives and livelihoods, pointing to South Korea, Taiwan and Sweden, which avoided lockdowns, as examples. While Sweden has suffered a high death rate relative to neighboring countries, it has imposed fewer restrictions.
In a letter Saturday to The Times, a group of senior Conservative peers called for Johnson to adopt a Swedish strategy to avoid the crippling economic and social side effects of shutdowns, partial or otherwise. “Sweden has achieved a lower death rate from COVID-19 than the UK [Britain], with far less economic and social damage, despite being a slightly more urbanized society. If lockdown were a treatment undergoing a clinical trial, the trial would be halted because of the side effects,” they said.
The debate is being mirrored to varying degrees in other European countries — all are struggling to come up with firm answers to the question of how they can live with the virus longer-term.
Source: Voice of America