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Germany faces ‘uncontrollable’ COVID spread as Europe renews lockdowns

Number of new daily infections in Germany passes 4,000 for first time since April, while France records single-day high

Passengers wear face masks as they leave a train in the central train station in Frankfurt, Germany, October 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Passengers wear face masks as they leave a train in the central train station in Frankfurt, Germany, October 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

BERLIN — German health experts warned on Thursday that the coronavirus could “spread uncontrollably” in the country, as infections surged across Europe and governments prepared to renew some lockdown measures.

In Belgium, Brussels’ crowded bars and cafes were shut for a month, a return to the stricter protocols imposed at the height of the epidemic in March and April.

And in France, officials were to apply tighter restrictions in several major cities, two days after a maximum alert protocol went into force in Paris.

Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic continues to dominate the US election, with the Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris accusing him of overseeing “the greatest failure… in the history of our country.”

German Health Minister Jens Spahn (R) and the president of the Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Lothar Wieler (L) wear face masks as they arrive for a press conference on October 8, 2020 in Berlin.(Tobias Schwarz/Various Sources/AFP)

Germany’s response to the crisis has been held up as a relative success, but officials are now raising the alarm over a “worrying jump” in coronavirus cases.

The number of new daily infections in Germany soared past 4,000 for the first time since early April.

“We don’t know how the situation in Germany will develop in the coming weeks,” warned Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

“It’s possible that we will reach more than 10,000 cases a day. It’s possible that the virus will spread uncontrollably. But I hope it doesn’t.”

Partying youth

The alarming jump in cases coincided with autumn school holidays in many parts of Germany, prompting calls from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for citizens to avoid travel abroad.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said many young people were “partying, traveling, thinking they are invincible.”

“But they’re not,” he said, urging them to think of the risk they pose to elderly relatives.

The number of daily coronavirus infections came in at 18,746 in France on Wednesday, a record since widespread testing began.

In Paris, bars and cafes were ordered to close on Tuesday for two weeks to slow the spread, just over a week after new restrictions were imposed on Marseille and the overseas region of Guadeloupe.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran is expected to announce later that tighter rules will be imposed in other cities.

Clients wearing face masks order meals on the terrace of a restaurant in Paris on October 6, 2020, on the implementation day of new sanitary measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in the French capital. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Bars were also ordered to close on Thursday in the Belgian capital Brussels, home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

Restaurants will remain open under strict social-distancing rules, but outdoor drinking and cafes will close after both new cases and hospitalizations surged to their highest levels since April.

Scotland imposed two-week ban on pubs in its main cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh on Wednesday, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s UK government to take similar steps in England.

But stark warnings from health experts about the rise in cases are balanced against rising opposition to lockdowns in many countries, from hard-pressed businesses and skeptical protesters.

‘Greatest failure’

In Spain, Madrid’s top regional court on Thursday rejected a partial lockdown imposed on the capital’s 4.5 million residents at the weekend.

The ruling stated that the order intruded on “the rights and fundamental freedoms” of Madrilenos.

A local police officer checks a driver’s identification at a traffic checkpoint to control people’s movement in Madrid, Spain, on October 3, 2020. (Oscar Del Pozo/AFP)

Tensions over the virus also took center stage at the US vice-presidential debate between the incumbent Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, running mate to Trump’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

US Democratic vice presidential nominee and Senator from California, Kamala Harris US Vice President Mike Pence Mike Pence (R) participate in the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Robyn Beck / AFP)

The COVID-19 illness has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States, more than in any other country, and Trump has just emerged from hospital after catching a disease he once dismissed as harmless.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” said Harris.

“The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it,” she declared. Pence insisted Trump had put “the health of America first” and accused Biden of copying his COVID plan.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than a million people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, and the lockdown measures adopted by many governments have battered the world economy.

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