Italy and France are reporting their highest number of COVID-19 cases since the coronavirus pandemic began, prompting national lockdowns over concerns of a second European wave.
Both countries saw a record number of cases in mid-October. On Oct. 18, more than 11,700 new infections were reported in Italy, up from 10,925 the day before and 10,010 the day before that, according to government data. Overall, Italian cases were up 284% in the previous 14 days, according to the New York Times.
France reported 32,427 new infections on Oct. 17, its highest total since the pandemic began and close to another 30,000 the next day. Death rates across Europe were currently five times lower in mid-October than they were in March and April, but the spike in cases troubled local officials.
The French government moved to reinstate a public health emergency as politicians deemed the recent rise a “health catastrophe.” In a national television address, French President Emmanuel Macron insisted his country hadn’t lost control of the virus but needed to act immediately.
“We are in a worrying situation,” he said. “We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus.”
Macron announced a month-long curfew in nine of the largest cities including Paris, Marseille, Lyon, and Toulouse. The mandate runs from 9pm-6am and applies to all nonessential businesses. Citizens who leave their house without a valid reason are subject to fines up to €135 ($160). This also probably isn’t great news for the Champagne industry.
In Italy, new restrictions are reminding locals of the spring, when the country was the first among European countries to impose lockdowns. Beginning Oct. 20, local mayors have the authority to close public spaces after 9pm. Public social gatherings are permitted, for now, but groups must be limited to six people. Bars offering table service must close at 9pm, while those without it must close at 6. Local festivals and contact sports are suspended for the immediate future.
“We cannot waste time. We must put in place measures to avoid a generalized lockdown, which could severely compromise the economy,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a televised address on Oct. 18. “The government is here but everyone has to do their part.”
It’s a pivotal time for France, Italy, and Europe as a whole. In a press conference, Dr Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s European director, told officials that if 95% of people wear masks and other social distancing measures are applied, Europe could avoid about 281,000 deaths by February. If restrictions aren’t observed by January 2021, the daily mortality rate could be four or five times higher than it was in April.