ROME—A few hours after the regional governor of the Italian region of Campania where Naples is located announced he would be locking down the entire province to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Neapolitans took to the streets Friday night to defy the order. The situation quickly turned into what one police official likened to urban warfare with protesters lighting dumpsters and ducking teargas being lobbed by police. All the while, the mostly maskless, yelling crowd undoubtedly spread coronavirus even more.
Europe is very much out of control when it comes to its second wave, with every single nation in the 27-member zone struggling in a race against time as hospitals fill up and death tolls—which are substantially less than the first wave so far— continue to rise. Millions of people are facing harsh new restrictions as governments play what amounts to whack-a-mole to try to stop the spread of the virus they thought just a few months ago they had defeated. Improved testing in many countries has painted a clearer picture of just how widespread the pandemic is, but because of the number of new infections, systems to contact trace have been overwhelmed, making the spread impossible to control.
France has expanded its Draconian curfew that has stifled Parisian nightlife and put a massive dent in the hospitality sector economy of one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Now 46 million French people will have to be home by 9 p.m. In Wales, a two-week “firebreak” started Friday, meaning everyone but essential workers has to be home by 6 p.m. The Czech Republic has just reached the dubious honor of having the most cases per capita in Europe with 1,148 cases per 100,000 residents, with Belgium and the Netherlands close behind. Ireland is under a six-week lockdown and Slovakia has vowed to test every single citizen to try to mitigate the spread. The Polish president has just tested positive and Germany reached 10,003 COVID-related deaths as the infection rate continues to rise. Filming of Mission Impossible 7 with Tom Cruise has been suspended in Venice as cases there reach record levels. And the Italian government is facing calls by 100 top scientists to mandate strict new measures in the next two or three days, or the outcome could be catastrophic.
And it is still only October.
Europe’s problems are dire, and citizens are angry that their governments have not been able to come up with any better plan than locking down, which puts already weak economies that were so badly hurt in the first wave of the pandemic at even greater risk of collapse. Ludovic Subran, the chief economist at Allianz warned last week of a high risk serious recession across Europe as new restrictions are put in place. “We see an elevated risk of a double dip recession in countries that are once again resorting to targeted and regional lockdowns,” he said, adding that the European Union’s first bailout $880 billion won’t likely go to growth but be used by many countries like Italy, Spain and Greece to just stay afloat.
On Saturday, the group Save Our Rights U.K. is holding a massive demonstration in London to protest not only restrictions being enforced by the British government, but the overall handling of the pandemic, pointing to contact tracing and other means to track the spread of the coronavirus as an affront to privacy. “We believe that the coronavirus regulations that are in place are not proportionate and appropriate, and are causing more harm than good,” Louise Creffield, the group founder told the Guardian. “We are very concerned with protecting people’s human rights: right to privacy, family life, bodily autonomy, medical freedoms, and so on. We are not just concerned with lockdowns per se, we are concerned with the infringements with our privacy by having this track and trace everywhere.”
Similar sentiments are now common across Europe, where pandemic fatigue is now evident. And with lack of a feasible containment plan anywhere, the people are angry, desperate and increasingly ambivalent about what is really at stake: thousands of lives.
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