COVID in Europe: France, Germany brace for lockdowns as Belgium sees record hospitalizations

PARIS -- A new wave of lockdowns and business closings is sweeping across France, Germany and other places in Europe as surging coronavirus infections there.

The World Health Organization says the European region - which includes Russia, Turkey, Israel and Central Asia, according to its definition - accounted for almost half of the 2.8 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week.

The U.N. health agency said virus-related deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike since the previous week, as well as hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

Here's what you need to know about the virus outbreak in Europe:

France prepares for monthlong partial lockdown


French doctors expressed relief but business owners were in despair as France prepared Thursday to shut down again for a month to try to put the brakes on a fast-moving fall coronavirus outbreak.

Shoppers at a Paris farmers' market said Thursday they were ready to restrict their freedoms given the rising number of virus-related deaths and COVID-19 patients filling French hospitals.

The new lockdown is gentler than what France saw in the spring, but still a shock to restaurants and other non-essential businesses that have been ordered to close their doors in one of the world's biggest economies.

French schools will stay open this time, to reduce learning gaps and allow parents to keep working. Farmer' markets, parks and factories can also continue operating, officials said.

French lawmakers are voting Thursday on the new restrictions announced by President Emmanuel Macron, which are set to come into effect at midnight. The lower house of parliament is dominated by Macron's centrist party, so approval is virtually guaranteed. The prime minister will lay out details of the virus-fighting plan Thursday evening.

Dr. Eric Caumes, head of the infectious and tropical disease department at Paris' Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, said Thursday on BFM television that the new restrictions are "an admission of failure" of the government's prevention efforts. He urged tougher restrictions.

The head of France's main business lobby MEDEF, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, said on Europe-1 radio Thursday that "shutting businesses that are not responsible for contamination is a mistake" that could drive many into bankruptcy. He claimed it was a gift to internet retailer Amazon, "the big winner from confinement."

COVID patients now fill 60% of French intensive care units, and France is reporting tens of thousands of new cases daily. Authorities reported 244 virus-related deaths in a single day Wednesday, for a total of 35,785 since the pandemic began, the third-highest toll in Europe after Britain and Italy.

Belgium, one of Europe's worst COVID hotspots, sees record high coronavirus hospitalizations


The number of patients in Belgian hospitals is now higher than during the first wave of the coronavirus crisis.

The latest figures showed that 5,924 patients were in hospital, surpassing the previous April 6 record of 5,759. The figures by the Sciensano center underscored the seriousness of the situation, which already pushed authorities to reinforce measures which they had relaxed only a month ago.

Patients in intensive care units reached 993, and virologists have said that unless tougher measures having a quick impact the saturation point of 2,000 patients will be reached on Nov. 6.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo promised tougher measures across the nation to avoid a breakdown of the country's health system.

German officials impose partial four-week lockdown


German officials have agreed to a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters and other leisure facilities in a bid to curb a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Merkel and the country's 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and easing restrictions, agreed on the partial lockdown in a videoconference. It is set to take effect on Monday and last until the end of November.

Merkel said, "We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency."

Restaurants will still be allowed to serve take-out food. Shops and schools are to remain open, unlike during Germany's shutdown during the first phase of the pandemic.

The decision came hours after Germany's disease control agency said a record 14,964 new confirmed cases were registered across the country in the past day, taking the national total in the pandemic to 449,275.
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