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Germany, France gear up for new lockdowns as Coronavirus surges

Berlin: Germany and France were bracing for new lockdowns Wednesday, as governments sought to stop the fast-rising tide of Coronavirus cases that are beginning to fill European hospitals.

French markets opened lower on expectations that President Emmanuel Macron will announce tough measures during a televised evening address to the nation.

Doctors in France are calling on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown, noting that more than half of the country's intensive care units are now occupied by COVID-19 patients and medical staff are under increasing strains.

Most parts of France were coloured deep red on a map representing COVID-cases from the European Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, signifying more than 240 cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks.

On Tuesday alone, the country had a big spike in the number of daily deaths from COVID-19, recording an additional 523 deaths and another 33,417 new infections.

Belgium, the Netherlands, most of Spain and the Czech Republic are seeing similarly high rates of infection, while Germany was still colored in orange indicating that the average number of new cases there is still under 120 per 100,000 over the last 14 days.

Still, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pressing governors of the country's 16 states to quickly agree a partial lockdown Wednesday that could include further restrictions on public gatherings and the closure of bars and restaurants.

The plan has caused anguish in Germany's hospitality industry, with thousands of venue owners staging a protest Wednesday at Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate to demand further financial support from the government.

While Germany has fared better than many of its neighboring European countries during the pandemic, officials warn that it, too, is beginning to lose control of the situation.

Economists said further restrictions need to be carefully calibrated to avoid dealing a second severe blow to businesses.

The strict containment measures in March and April laid the ground for an economically successful summer. Wales has opted for that short, sharp approach, with a 17-day lockdown in which people cannot even drive out of their region to England.

The Czech Health Ministry said the country's day-to-day case increase hit a new record high of 15,663 on Tuesday as many as Germany, which has eight times the population.

The Czech government has further tightened its regulations, imposing a nationwide curfew between 9 p.m and 6 a.m. that started Wednesday.

Even Sweden, which avoided a national lockdown and generally imposed far lighter measures than other European countries, is now urging people to avoid shopping centers and shops and stay away from public transportation.

The World Health Organization said more than 2 million confirmed Coronavirus cases were reported last week the shortest time ever for such an exponential increase.

It said for the second consecutive week, the European region accounted for the biggest proportion of new cases, with more than 1.3 million cases or about 46 per cent of the worldwide total.

The U.N. health agency said deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35 per cent spike since the previous week. Overall, Europe has seen more than 250,000 virus-related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The WHO also noted that hospitalizations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 increased in 21 countries across Europe.

Meanwhile, more than 500,000 new Coronavirus cases were reported worldwide on Tuesday in a new record, according to a tally from health authorities compiled by AFP.

In total, 516,898 new infections and 7,723 deaths were announced, according to the tally compiled on Wednesday.

This spike in worldwide cases can only partially be explained by an increase in testing since the first wave of the epidemic in March and April.

Europe has once again become the new epicentre of the disease which is spreading rapidly on the continent.

Over the past seven days, there has been an average of more than 220,000 new daily infections, a 44 percent rise from the previous week.

The region is nearing a daily average of 2,000 deaths just as governments rush to impose infection-control measures to try and contain this second wave. The United States is also facing a rise in cases.

For the first time, it registered more than 500,000 infections over the past seven days, compared to 370,000 the previous week.

Among the 500,000 cases recorded globally Tuesday, more than half were registered in the 10 worst-hit countries in the world: the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

On the other hand, London's Heathrow Airport says it has lost its place as Europe's busiest air hub to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after the COVID-19 pandemic grounded flights and Britain failed to approve passenger testing that could scale back quarantine requirements.

Heathrow said Wednesday that it expects passenger numbers to fall more than previously forecast this year and rebound more slowly in 2021.

The airport now expects to serve 22.6 million passengers this year and 37.1 million in 2021, down from a June forecast of 29.2 million and 62.8 million. The forecast for this year represents at 72% drop from 2019.

Commercial aviation plunged this year as governments implemented travel restrictions and passengers cancelled flights amid efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.

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