Coronavirus Lockdown Tightens Across Europe

(Bloomberg) --

France closed restaurants, cafés and non-essential stores and Spain imposed a national lockdown as European governments from Scandinavia to the Balkans increasingly curtailed public life to fight the coronavirus.

With France and Spain joining hard-hit Italy in halting most activities, three of the four major euro-area countries face a growing economic hit from the spread of the virus. While the region’s biggest economy, Germany, has thus far refrained from nationwide closings, places like Berlin announced their own strict measures. In France, only banks, grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open but the first round of municipal elections on Sunday will go ahead, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

“Too many people still go to cafés and restaurants,” Philippe said Saturday in announcing the measures, which follow in the footsteps of Italy and Belgium. “We must show more discipline.”

It’s a drastic step for France, where the cafés never closed completely even during World War II. Philippe said the goal is “to protect the nation.” In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a 15-day national emergency that restricts citizens’ movement and gatherings, though most stores and companies can remain open.

Hours after announcing the Spanish lockdown, the government confirmed that Sanchez’s wife had tested positive for the virus.

Coronavirus Lockdown Tightens Across Europe

In Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg practically sealed off the country, shutting airports, ports and border crossings and called in the army to help enforce the measures. In Northern Macedonia, Health Minister Venko Filipce said pubs and restaurants have been banned from serving food to patrons, though they’ll be allowed to home-deliver.

Italy has reported the most cases of the new coronavirus outside China, where the pathogen emerged at the end of last year. Confirmed cases in France doubled in the past 72 hours to about 4,500 and the country should brace for a large number of severe cases, Jerome Salomon, director-general for health, said Saturday. Spain’s cases rose to 5,232 by late Friday.

More than 150,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, including more than 5,700 deaths.

Berlin’s Clubs

Berlin city authorities shut down a swath of public life in the German capital on Saturday, banning public and private events of more than 50 people and closing pubs, clubs, movie theaters, stages and sports venues until at least April 19. Restaurants can remain open, but only if they space tables at least 1.5 meters apart, according to a statement by the local government.

Italy has set the pace for restrictions, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday ordering virtually all retailers other than grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations to close until March 25.

In a challenge to Europe’s visa-free travel, European governments, including Russia, tightened borders to slow the spread of the virus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged people to avoid unnecessary social events.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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