Rome/Berlin/Amsterdam/Warsaw — Governments across Europe announced tighter and longer coronavirus lockdowns on Wednesday over fears about a fast-spreading variant first detected in Britain, with vaccinations not expected to help much for another two to three months.
Italy will extend its Covid-19 state of emergency to the end of April, health minister Roberto Speranza said as infections show no sign of abating.
Germany is likely to have to extend Covid-19 curbs into February, health minister Jens Spahn said, stressing the need to further reduce contacts to fend off the more infectious variant identified in Britain.
The German cabinet approved stricter entry controls to require people arriving from countries with high caseloads or where the more virulent variant is circulating to take a coronavirus test.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of legislators on Tuesday that the coming eight to 10 weeks would be very hard if the more infectious variant spread to Germany, according to a participant at the meeting.
Spahn told Deutschlandfunk radio it would take another two or three months before the vaccination campaign really started to help.
The Dutch government said it would extend lockdown measures, including the closure of schools and shops, by at least three weeks until February 9.
“This decision does not come as a surprise, but it is an incredible disappointment,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a news conference, adding that the threat posed by the new variant was “very, very worrying”.
He said the government was considering imposing a curfew, but was reluctant and had sought outside advice before deciding on such severe restrictions.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron met senior ministers to discuss possible new measures. A nationwide curfew could be brought forward to 6pm from 8pm, as has already happened in some parts of the country, French media reported.
There is no need to close schools but new restrictions are needed in light of the variant detected in Britain, the government’s top scientific adviser said, adding that if vaccines were more widely accepted the crisis could be over by September.
In Switzerland, officials in Bern cancelled the Lauberhorn World Cup downhill race, out of fear that the new variant — brought in by what health authorities said was a single British tourist — was now spreading rapidly among locals. At least 60 people have tested positive in the Alpine resort of Wengen in the last four weeks.
The Swiss government is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will extend its lockdown restrictions by five weeks to the end of February, including closing all restaurants and cultural and recreational sites.
There was more optimistic news from Poland, where Covid-19 case numbers have stabilised after surging in the autumn.
“I hope that in two to three weeks the restrictions will be a little smaller, the vaccine will work,” Poland’s finance minister Tadeusz Koscinski said. “Some restrictions will remain for a long time, but I think that 80% of these restrictions will start to disappear at the turn of the first and second quarter,” he said.
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