There will be no return to normal life until at least autumn 2021, one of France’s top medics has warned, despite cases in the country falling sharply even as they rise across the rest of Europe.
Jean-François Delfraissy, head of France’s National Consultative Ethics Committee, warned that protective measures such as lockdowns, social distancing and mask-wearing will have to remain in place until those most at-risk from Covid infections can be protected by vaccines – which is unlikely to happen before the end of next year.
France, one of the hardest-hit countries during the second wave, managed to reduce cases significantly via a second national lockdown which was only relaxed this week – shortly before President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the virus on Thursday.
Other European nations also succeeded in dampening the virus to a lesser extent using lockdowns, before cases began soaring again as measures eased.
Leaders are now rushing to introduce more curbs ahead of the Christmas holidays, amid fears relaxing the rules as they had planned will create a new wave of infections and deaths that will hit in January.
In Italy ministers could limit guests to just two immediate family members over Christmas, with a decision due to be announced later today.
Lockdown-free Sweden, which now has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, has warned that further coronavirus restrictions are ‘likely’ but virus expert Anders Tegnell has ruled out the widespread use of face masks and said a full national lockdown remains ‘unlikely’.
‘You take it as far as you can without the measures doing more harm than good,’ he said. ‘All restrictions we impose will be harmful to health in one way or another – long term or short term. You have to be aware of that.’
Asked why he would not be recommending masks as other European nations have, Tegnell added: ‘Do take a look at the developments in the countries where they have had enforced facemask policies.’
Meanwhile Germany, praised for its early response to the pandemic, is also being hit hard – reporting 33,777 new cases on Friday, its highest toll since mid-April.
The country also recorded 813 deaths, it’s second-highest one-day total of the pandemic so far and well above the first wave peak of 315.
German federal leaders have now been accused of squandering the gains made during the first wave as they overruled Angela Merkel during a crunch lockdown meeting in late October.
Instead of plunging the country back into strict restrictions, they opted instead for a lockdown-lite approach that magazine Der Spiegel described as ‘the biggest political miscalculation of the year’.
Germany has now been forced back into strict lockdown this week as hospitals were overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, with restrictions in place across the Christmas holiday.
The country is far from the only one to have tightened restrictions across the holidays, having reversed an earlier decision to relax them.
Italian politicians are due to make a decision on their Christmas restrictions today, with the two main plans under consideration being to plunge the whole country into strict measures until January – or to leave a small windown open to socialise between Deember 28 and 30.
Under the plans, each household could be allowed to invite a maximum of two guests from one other household provided they are ‘immediate’ family members such as grandparents or children.
In Spain, travel between regions has been banned over the holidays with gatherings limited to a maximum of ten people from two households until at least January 11, with bars and restaurants only allowed to open for four hours each day in two time slots – once in the morning and again in the afternoon.