‘Difficult months ahead’: Europe prepares for more pain as Covid cases soar

Positive reports on Oxford vaccine but UK warns ‘we’re not there yet’

 Taxi drivers protest against the new Covid-19 restrictions in Turin, Italy on Monday. More than 180 taxis have occupied Piazza Castello. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

Taxi drivers protest against the new Covid-19 restrictions in Turin, Italy on Monday. More than 180 taxis have occupied Piazza Castello. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

 

European leaders warned of difficult months ahead as the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic forced authorities to impose new restrictions to try to curb the spread of the disease.

Word that a vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc produced immune responses in both elderly and young people offered some positive news.

However, British health secretary Matt Hancock cautioned that the vaccine would not be widely available until next year and said “we’re not there yet”.

Elsewhere the picture was unrelentingly grim as a string of countries reported record increases, led by France, which posted more than 50,000 daily cases for the first time on Sunday, while the continent passed the threshold of 250,000 deaths.

Governments have been desperate to avoid the lockdowns which curbed the disease at the start of the year at the cost of shutting down their entire economies. But the steady rise in new cases has forced them to ratchet up controls steadily.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘We are facing very, very difficult months ahead’. Photograph: Christian Marquardt/ Pool/Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘We are facing very, very difficult months ahead’. Photograph: Christian Marquardt/ Pool/Getty Images

“We are facing very, very difficult months ahead,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of leaders from her Christian Democrat party, according to daily Bild.

Although Germany has fared relatively well compared to other countries in Europe, it too has seen a sharp rise in cases and the closely watched Ifo business climate index fell on Monday, reflecting the worries over the virus.

The gloom around the resurgent virus weighed on financial markets, where oil prices dropped on concerns of another slide in demand and stock markets also fell.

In Spain, which has had more than 1 million cases of the disease, prime minister Pedro Sanchez warned the country was facing an “extreme” situation as he announced a new state of emergency on Sunday, imposing local nighttime curfews and banning travel between regions in some cases.

Italy, the country worst hit in the early stages of the crisis in March, also imposed new curbs, ordering restaurants and bars to close from 6pm and shutting down cinemas, and gyms and imposing local curfews in several regions.

Street clashes with small groups of protestors over the weekend and angry criticism from restaurant owners and business groups about the impact of the measures underlined the increasingly tense climate facing prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

The Czech government will almost certainly have to tighten its anti-coronavirus measures again as current curbs have not halted a surge in infections, prime minister Andrej Babis said on Sunday.

Cases are up across Europe, but the Czech Republic has recorded the sharpest rises in infections on the continent in recent weeks.

A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask passes a statue on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. Photographer: Milan Jaros/Bloomberg
A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask passes a statue on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. Photographer: Milan Jaros/Bloomberg

The government on Wednesday ordered most shops and services to close and sought to limit movement to essential trips only.

“The measures which we have taken, aren’t working yet,” Mr Babis said in a video message on his Facebook page.

“The next week will be the key one, and unless a miracle happens, we won’t have any other choice than to tighten our measures further,” he said.

Mr Babis said that he wanted Christmas to be celebrated as normal, but he could not promise anything for now.

“I don’t know what will happen with the virus. I don’t know,” he said.

The total number of coronavirus-related deaths doubled to more than 2,000 in the last two weeks. – Reuters