Early softening defies warnings
Leaders in France and Britain have announced a tentative easing of lockdown restrictions heading into the Christmas holiday season, while admitting that the coronavirus is far from under control.
The decision to reopen shops, resume indoor entertainment and permit limited holiday gatherings appears to defy a scientific consensus that has underscored the risks of indoor socialising, and urged against lifting restrictions too rapidly.
But many European leaders seem reluctant to keep their economies shuttered or stand in the way of family members seeing each other after a year marked by long periods of strict confinement measures and social isolation.
French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday outlined a three-step plan that could see non-essential shops reopen from Sunday, and cinemas and theatres welcome back audiences in mid-December. Restaurants would need to remain closed into January, and an evening curfew would remain in place.
However, exceptions would be granted for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve so that people could ‘‘share these moments together among family’’, Macron said.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for a national lockdown to end on December 2, to be replaced by a region-by-region tiered system of restrictions.
The government also agreed to an easing of restrictions that would allow loved ones to meet during the Christmas period. From December 23 to 27, up to three households can form a ‘‘Christmas bubble’’ and mix indoors. People will be able to travel across the country and move between tiers.
In Spain, the government is reportedly considering limiting social gatherings over the holidays to just six people, in
addition to imposing a 1am curfew on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Germany could soon follow suit. Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet with leaders of the country’s 16 federal states to determine whether to extend amonth-long November lockdown, which shuttered bars and eat-in dining but kept schools and stores open.
But behind the easing of restrictions are continued concerns over case numbers, hospitalisations and death tolls, which suggest that Europe is barely past the peak of the second wave.
France’s hospitals are fuller than they were in the northern spring.
In Britain, the government said the latest daily death toll yesterday was 608, the highest total recorded since May. And unlike in May, when Johnson announced the first easing of restrictions after four weeks of emptying hospitals, numbers are still rising.
There were 13,767 Covid-19 patients in English hospitals on Tuesday, the most since April 22, and double what they were a month ago. ICU occupancy is also still rising.