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European Countries Revive Restrictions To Battle COVID-19 Spike


We've been reporting all week about the enormous second wave of coronavirus cases across Europe. Italy, Spain, France have all announced drastic measures to curb the spread. And this morning, we are going to go to Germany. Last spring, it was seen as a role model for how to handle a virus. But now Germany is struggling as well. And we have NPR's Rob Schmitz on the line from Berlin.

Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I know Chancellor Angela Merkel had these meetings with the heads of all the German states and now announced this new lockdown. I just wonder what - I mean, does this feel different from the measures Germany took in the spring?

SCHMITZ: A little. What's different here is with this new lockdown is that schools and day cares will remain open. That was not the case last spring when schools were closed throughout the country for weeks. Besides that, we're looking at similar measures. Apart from restaurants and bars being closed, gyms, pools, theaters, soccer matches, they're all going to be closed for the month of November. And the government has promised to pay small businesses 75% of what they made a year ago to keep them afloat. After yesterday's meeting, there was a tone of urgency in Chancellor Merkel's remarks. Here's what she said.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) We have to act is now. The most important tool we have to fight this pandemic, contact tracing, is no longer available to us in many parts of the country because health authorities have reached the limit of what they can track. And this means the chain of infection can no longer be broken and that we have lost control over the spread of the virus.

SCHMITZ: And, David, Merkel added here that Germany, which became known as a gold standard in contact tracing, is no longer able to trace 75% of its coronavirus cases. In the past 24 hours, there were nearly 17,000 new cases, a new record for Germany, and that's twice as many cases as last week. And had Germany not issued this lockdown order, experts predicted there would be at least 28,000 infections per day within a week.

GREENE: I mean, it's stunning to see these new outbreaks all over, you know, the world, I mean, in many parts of it - Europe, the United States, elsewhere, I guess I just wonder, Germany was this role model for how to manage a pandemic. What do we think went wrong? Was it just letting the guard down?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, it wasn't from a lack of leadership on Merkel's part. She's been warning people for weeks about this. The problem actually is Germans themselves, as well as their local politicians. In the spring, the country was unified in fighting this virus, and they were rewarded with lower infection numbers and with a summer full of travel. This time around, there is a growing fatigue setting in, and more people are ignoring social distancing. And this includes many of the state leaders that Merkel met with yesterday. Two weeks ago, she emerged from a meeting with them, frustrated by their laissez faire attitude towards the rising case numbers. And she warned them then that their lack of action would lead to rising infection numbers and force Germany to lock the country down again. And it turns out, she was right. And even today when she addressed Parliament, she was heckled by members of the far right.

GREENE: And we should say it's not just Germany. I mean, other countries around Europe are going through this right now.

SCHMITZ: That's right. Yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a similar lockdown that will be in place until December, and that's on top of a curfew order that impacts two-thirds of France. Much of Spain is also under a curfew, and Italy has ordered many businesses and restaurants to close by 6 p.m. Numbers are just out of control throughout Europe. And if you include Russia, 46% of the world's current coronavirus cases are here in Europe.

GREENE: Wow. NPR's Rob Schmitz for us in Berlin this morning.

Rob, thanks a lot.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIK FRIEDLANDER'S "NIGHT WHITE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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