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The surge in new coronavirus cases in France is far outstripping increases in other European countries and is coming just as millions of children return to school, leaving the government weighing ways to respond.
New cases jumped by almost 9,000 Friday, the biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. That was almost twice the advance in Spain and about four times Italy’s, with daily cases in both countries at or near the highest gains in months. Infections are also surging in Germany and the U.K.
Part of the French spike is linked to testing increasing to more than 1 million a week, and policy makers can take some comfort from the fact that hospitalizations and fatalities are contained. The number of patients in intensive care was at 473 Friday, compared with about 7,000 at the peak. Still, the surge is coming just as 12 million students return to school, creating pressure for action on a government reluctant to consider a new, national lockdown.
“I can’t imagine a total re-confinement and the president doesn’t want to consider a general re-confinement,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said on BFM TV Saturday. “The lockdown was a lid on a cauldron that was spilling over. Today, we have other means to fight against the spread of the virus, and above all we’re able to track it.”
New measures did go into effect this week. Masks are now mandatory for companies with groups working in enclosed spaces and cities from Paris to Marseilles are making masks compulsory, even outside. Children older than 11 also have to cover their faces.
France Tightens Mask Protocols Amid Gain in Virus Infections
Some things remain sacrosanct. The Tour de France started in Nice last week after a two-month delay. Still, with strict health protocols in place, the cyclists’ Grand Depart was watched by just 100 people.
Across Europe, cases have been jumping due to a combination of stepped up testing and an easing of lockdown measures that permitted millions to travel this summer. Reviving broad lockdowns may not be an option for leaders struggling to revive crippled economies who are facing growing public fatigue, and even open opposition to restrictions that have triggered protests in places like Germany, the U.K. and Italy.
The economy may continue to take priority over lockdowns as long as hospitalizations and fatalities remain constrained. Many of the new infections have been among younger, healthier people, who tend to recover more quickly and with fewer complications. President Emmanuel Macron’s government announced a 100 billion-euro ($118 billion) stimulus plan on Sept. 3, as France tries to revive an economy that forecast to contract 11% this year.
Macron Throws 100 Billion Euros at French Economic Relaunch
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Saturday that the country would favor local restrictions over a nationwide lockdown. New cases on Saturday rose by 1,695, down slightly from a four-month high of 1,733 Friday. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 83, was hospitalized this week after testing positive for Covid-19.
“We won’t find ourselves in a situation to order a general lockdown; at worst we’ll have to intervene in a targeted way, with restrictive measures for narrowly defined areas,” Conte said at a conference on Saturday.
Conte doesn’t want to allow fans in soccer stadiums for the Serie A season starting later this month. He also denied responsibility for the reopening of nightclubs during the summer, which is suspected to have contributed to the surge in cases. He blamed that decision on regional governments, and his administration ordered the closing of clubs again in mid-August.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Aug. 25 that another lockdown is not on the table, putting the response in the hands of regional authorities. Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, helping contain the spread from the pandemic that caused more than 29,000 deaths. Cases rose by more than 5,000 on Friday, the highest in four months.
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