A large number of countries are preparing for the possibility of further national lockdowns as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the world. Health officials in Europe and beyond are expecting further spikes as winter approaches and flu season hits, with governments worried over further economic damage in the event of lockdowns.
Israel has approved a second full national lockdown as its coronavirus numbers have risen dramatically over the past days and weeks.
The country will return to many of the same severe restrictions it was placed under when the first wave hit back in April.
Schools, restaurants and entertainment venues are all set to close for an initial period of three weeks, as well as any other non-essential businesses. Private sector businesses are permitted to continue to operate but non-employees are not allowed to enter the workspace.
“There is now no escape from a closure. We brought a proposal [for closure]. I truly will not be happy when it is approved. This is a very difficult day for the country. But it’s a proposal with no other alternative,” Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Sunday.
In the UK, the Financial Times have reported that the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) have recommended a new national lockdown to the government.
Local lockdowns are currently in place across Britain with varying degrees of restrictions put in place depending on the region and Boris Johnson has already expressed his reluctance to once again place the country under full lockdown restrictions. However, with case numbers and the infection rate rising, in addition to winter and flu season approaching, a lockdown may be unavoidable, regardless of the damaging effects on the economy it may have.
“The last line of defense is full national action and I don’t want to see that but we will do whatever is necessary to keep people safe in a very difficult pandemic,” the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.
He added: “It isn’t something that we ever take off the table but it isn’t something that we want to see either, it is the last line of defense.”
“We do have to recognize that the number of cases is rising and we do have to act because we know, especially from looking at other countries, that inexorably leads to more hospitalizations and sadly more deaths,” he said.
“And that is what we want to minimize and we want to protect people’s livelihoods at the same time.”
“Sometimes we can’t say exactly what the future holds because we’re in a pandemic.
“But I can give this hope, which is that if everybody follows the rule of six, if everyone follows self-isolation if they have tested positive or if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, and if everybody in the local lockdown areas follows the rules near them, then we can control this virus together.
“But only by the country pulling together.”
Mr Hancock pointed to the example of Belgium as offering “hope” for the UK, adding: “They had a start of a second spike, quite similar to what we’ve seen over the last few weeks here, and then they took action and then it came down.
“It came down because the country, once again, came together to tackle the virus.
“In Belgium, for example, they introduced the rule of five, we’ve introduced a rule of six.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) have spoken of their concern at the situation in Europe, now announcing that weekly cases have exceeded those reported during the first peak back in March.
“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said. “Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.”
“More than half of European countries have reported a greater-than-10 percent increase in cases in the past two weeks. Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period.
“In the spring and early summer, we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off. In June cases hit an all-time low.
“The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”
The death rate now is significantly lower than during the first peak at the beginning of the year but WHO officials claim it could once again increase as the colder months strike Europe. Countries are now met with the difficult task of balancing the need to keep the economy open so people can continue to support themselves and their families, and the need to protect the sick and vulnerable from unnecessary death, as well as their respective healthcare systems.