New, aggressive mutations of the coronavirus that were first discovered in the U.K. and South Africa are forcing governments to increase the severity of lockdowns and other restrictions, and prompting a clampdown on rulebreakers.
- The new variant has already been detected in countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Ireland and Denmark, with some requiring negative COVID tests from inbound travelers.
- The French prime minister refused on Monday to rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown. The government has so far stopped short of such a step, contrary to most other EU countries. But a national curfew is already in place, along with the closure of bars, restaurants and public venues.
- England will require from Jan. 15 that all inbound travelers, including U.K. citizens, produce a negative COVID test taken in the three days before their departure.
- The U.K. police will be tasked with enforcing mask-wearing and other restrictions in supermarkets, amid growing signs of lax public compliance with the lockdown, as witnessed on public transport.
- Among the major European countries, Italy so far has the worst pandemic death toll with 1,314 fatalities per million inhabitants, followed by the U.K. (1,228), Spain (1,110), France (1,017) and Germany (503). The U.S., by comparison, is at 1,146 deaths per million.
- Bank of America analysts on Tuesday downgraded their economic prospects for the eurozone this year. They now see gross domestic product rise only 2.9% (vs. 3.9% in their previous forecast)
The outlook: The severity of the current wave puts pressure on authorities to speed up the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns that started during the Christmas holidays. But logistical mistakes or bureaucratic snafus in many countries are testing the limits of the public’s patience.
Meanwhile, as shown by the Bank of America note, the current wave will take its toll on Europe’s weakened economy, forcing governments to imagine further steps to support households and businesses until vaccines begin to slow the pandemic.