World Let's Not Sleepwalk Into New European Lockdowns

12:26  22 september  2020
12:26  22 september  2020 Source:   bloomberg.com

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Many European countries have begun implementing tentative plans to ease lockdowns imposed to combat the spread of the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus Several countries have announced plans to reopen borders with neighbours. The European Commission has called for travel and the tourism

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- If the number of lily pads on a pond doubles every day, and it takes 29 days for them to cover the entire pond, on what day is the pond half-covered?

This brainteaser is how Martin Hirsch, head of the Paris region’s hospital network, describes the brutal first wave of Covid-19 that triggered lockdowns across Europe in March and April. The answer is 28, because once the pond is half-covered it only takes one extra day for the lily pads’ spread to double in size. “One day’s delay means double the cases, double the seriously ill, and double the deaths,” he writes in a new book about hospitals battling the virus. “Every day counts.”

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Across Europe , lockdown measures are being lifted cautiously, in phases. Businesses are reopening and many children are back in school. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that an ''emergency brake'' would be applied anywhere with a surge in new infections.

Hundreds of thousands of people will have new local lockdowns imposed later, prompting a council leader to say more can be avoided if rules are followed. Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taff were the first areas to go into lockdown . The new measures affect 431,000 people, meaning just over 850

Hirsch’s metaphor has relevance for the new surge in Covid-19 cases currently hitting Spain, France and the U.K. The pick-up certainly looks like a lily pad in full flow.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Uncontrolled? © Bloomberg Uncontrolled?

Deaths are rising at a slower rate, yet they’re also clearly on the rise. The comfort here is they’re averaging at 100 or below per week in those same countries — while tragic, that’s a far cry from peak levels of 1,000 seen during the lockdowns last spring. Mass test-and-trace programs rolled out in the summer have caught asymptomatic and mild cases earlier, while the seriously ill are better treated and less likely to die, doctors say. But the fear is that by the time death rates spike noticeably, it will be too late to do anything about it.

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THE UK is ' sleep - walking ' towards a second wave of the coronavirus as the daily number of new confirmed cases of the coronavirus begins to increase above the weekly average. Due to this rise incases, he stated the UK was now " sleepwalking towards a second wave".

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That’s why epidemiologists and stock market investors see national lockdowns as a rising risk, even as leaders from France’s Emmanuel Macron to Britain’s Boris Johnson have said they’d rather learn to live with the coronavirus than impose another set of draconian restrictions on people’s movement. Government scientists predict the U.K. could be reporting 50,000 daily cases by mid-October, up from the current rate of almost 4,000; France and Spain are already averaging about 10,000. The temptation to shutter stores, businesses and schools for a short period, however painful, might be impossible for governments to ignore if this gets worse.

a screenshot of a computer: Deaths Are Climbing Too, But Slowly © Bloomberg Deaths Are Climbing Too, But Slowly

Rather than assume the lily pad will spread unchecked as before, though, there are a few reassuring factors to keep in mind.

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Unlike in the first wave, when lockdowns seemed the only way to buy time to relieve overwhelmed hospitals and save lives, we know a lot more about SARS-Cov-2. Governments have improved surveillance from the top via testing, tracing and isolation of positive cases to identify and break the chain of transmission. Individuals have stepped up prevention — mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing — to hinder the virus’s ability to spread. On the curative front, as we wait for game-changer vaccines and therapies, steroids and blood-thinners have improved patient recovery in the hospital. The equipment shortages that cruelly exposed frontline workers, from supermarket cashiers to medical staff, are nowhere near as bad as they were in April.

There’s still room to put renewed focus on all of these interlocking measures and tougher local strictures that have been used in cities and regions when cases jump, without putting entire countries in a bell jar. This isn’t just about economic self-interest. The high price of blanket curbs included rising inequality, as school closures hurt children’s education for little epidemiological gain, and delays in potentially life-saving cancer screening.

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The European Court of Justice passed an important ruling last week — not on Brexit but on quantitative easing. The judges vindicated the European Central What I fear is that the eurozone will sleepwalk into an economic downturn, but Mr Draghi will this time not be in a position to come to the rescue as

Spain also plans ‘transition to normality’ despite a rise in German Covid-19 infection rate after relaxation of restrictions.

Showing the Strain © Bloomberg Showing the Strain

The challenge is time and public trust. Targeted measures have been slow in coming, and hospitals are starting to fill up again. Covid-19 patients now account for 20%-30% of ICU beds in the Paris and Madrid regions. Testing systems are being stretched to the limit, in some places to the point of collapse. It’s easy to see how confidence in the authorities could evaporate. People might simply take matters into their own hands, veering between fear (self-imposed restrictions on movement) and fatigue (giving up on social distancing). The result would be sleepwalking into lockdown.

This is where transparency and trust come into play. Governments should be clear about their strategy, which sometimes seems to veer between letting the virus circulate (such as restoring nightlife and tourism too hastily) and suppressing it outright. They should avoid flip-flopping on public-health messages, taking a page out of Sweden’s book, which has kept its rules broadly stable since the beginning of the pandemic. And they should take comfort from Italy’s current success in keeping the virus in check, as well as the effectiveness of local lockdowns seen in several countries. Second waves can still be stopped, or at least slowed down.

It’s clear that several big European countries have been behind the curve on Covid-19. They lack the pandemic muscle memory of Asia, and the natural defenses of low population density. But that doesn’t mean they’re fated to lock down again. Sometimes lily pads can be contained without draining the pond.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the European Union and France. He worked previously at Reuters and Forbes.

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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