BERLIN • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has become Europe's latest leader to retreat from a no-lockdown pledge, faced with a pandemic that is wreaking havoc on government plans and derailing an economic recovery.
A one-month stay-at-home policy for all of England will take effect on Thursday, with waivers for schools, universities and essential stores, Mr Johnson said on Saturday as Britain's Covid-19 cases surpassed one million. Germany and France imposed similar partial shutdowns last week.
Leaders across the region are seeking to beat back the virus surge before the end-of-year holiday season in Europe.
"Christmas is going to be different this year," Mr Johnson said. "But it's my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now, we can allow families across the country to be together."
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said yesterday that the measures might have to be extended if they fail to contain the spread of the coronavirus. "It will get reviewed on Dec 2, but we're always driven by what the data shows," Mr Gove said in a Sky News interview.
In Germany, starting today, bars, restaurants, leisure facilities and cultural venues have to close, while schools and most shops can remain open. France began its version of "lockdown lite" last Friday.
Belgium is closing all non-essential stores and curtailing family visits to avoid crashing its healthcare system. And Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, intent on avoiding a national lockdown, expanded economic aid for businesses and tightened restrictions in population centres.
With protests multiplying and political unity fraying, officials had been trying to avoid the sweeping restrictions that plunged the continent into recession in the spring.
Mr Johnson's decision to lock down England came after its outbreak outstripped the government's worst-case projections. "The measures... are less prohibitive (than the full-scale lockdown in spring)," he said.
Furloughed workers will be eligible for state payments covering as much as 80 per cent of wages through the new lockdown period.
Cases in Britain increased by almost 22,000 on Saturday. The country leads Europe's Covid-19 death toll, with more than 46,000 fatalities compared with France's 36,800 deaths with a similar population size.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and business leaders will discuss easing the burden on industry on Wednesday.
"We need to do everything in our power to get the infection numbers under control" while protecting jobs, Dr Merkel said.
She had announced measures last week to severely limit movement, while keeping schools open and the economy ticking over.
Germany is in a "dramatic situation", with healthcare services stretched close to the limit and officials no longer able to track infections back to the source, she said.
Dr Merkel is struggling to retain control over the crisis. An address she made in Parliament last Thursday was repeatedly interrupted by heckling from opposition lawmakers as she condemned "lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hate".
France's goal is to limit economic contraction to 15 per cent during the latest lockdown, about half of the 30 per cent decline during March's lockdown, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
That was caused, in particular, by a halt in construction work while this time, building sites and stores selling building materials will remain open, as well as government services handling permits.
The new curbs were announced less than a week after France expanded a curfew to about two-thirds of the population.
President Emmanuel Macron told the nation last week: "The virus is circulating in France at a speed that even the most pessimistic forecast didn't foresee."
On Friday, France reported the most new deaths since April 20, the same day the first lockdown went into effect.
In neighbouring Italy, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said yesterday that new data on the coronavirus was "terrifying" and that the country had two days to approve further restrictions to curb its spread.
Italy recorded almost 32,000 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, its highest daily record since the start of the crisis.
"We have 48 hours to try to approve a further tightening (of the rules), there are too many people around," Mr Speranza was quoted as saying by local daily Corriere della Sera.
"The epidemiological curve is still very high. What worries me the most is the absolute data, which shows a terrifying curve."
A new lockdown appeared to be the only option, he added.
Italy, which has already been under a partial lockdown for the past week, could add a ban on travel between regions, Corriere della Sera had reported on Saturday.
Milan, Naples, Bologna, Turin and Rome are among cities that could face lockdowns of at least parts of their metropolitan areas.
In Spain, a majority of the country's 17 regions have already closed their domestic borders or will do so this week, preventing non-essential travel. Targeted regional lockdowns will remain in force until at least Nov 9.
Spain reported more than 9,000 daily coronavirus infections on two consecutive days last week, the most since tracking started.