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UK pressed to follow French, German lockdowns as COVID-19 rates surge

LONDON/BERLIN: Britain resisted pressure on Thursday to impose a second nationwide lockdown after France and Germany ordered sweeping restrictions on social life to contain a surge in Coronavirus infections that has pushed health services to their limits.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has so far tried to avoid a nationwide lockdown, opting instead for a tiered system of local controls intended to tighten measures in affected regions while leaving others less restricted.

A new study by Imperial College in London underlined the dire situation facing Britain, the country with the largest number of Coronavirus deaths in Europe, showing cases in England doubling every nine days.

Steven Riley, the author of the study, said the government should decide quickly if it wanted to follow France and Germany.

"And sooner is better than later for these," Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics, told the BBC.

However Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he did not think it was inevitable that the UK would follow France and Germany in imposing nationwide restrictions.

"The judgement of the government today is that a blanket national lockdown is not appropriate, would do more harm than good," he told Times Radio.

Europe's economies were plunged into their deepest recession on record by the blanket lockdowns imposed at the start of the crisis in March and April and the latest restrictions have snuffed out the faint signs of recovery seen over the summer.

Financial markets steadied somewhat on Thursday after a brutal selloff a day before as the prospect of a double dip recession came ever more clearly into view.

Governments have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdowns but have been forced to move by the speed of new infections and a steadily increasing mortality rate across the continent.

While the French and German lockdowns will leave schools and most businesses open, they severely restrict social life by closing bars, restaurants, cinemas and the like and impose strict limits on people's movements.

Apart from that, Disneyland Paris is temporarily closing again as France enters a second nationwide lockdown to curb a surge in coronavirus infections.

The closure starts at the end of the day on Thursday and is "in line with the latest direction from the French authorities," Disneyland Paris said in a statement.

It hopes to open for the holiday season and will be taking reservations from December 19 through January 3 "based on prevailing conditions and government guidance at that time," it added. The theme park will be shut from January 4 through February 12.

The shutdown will come as a fresh blow to Disney's Parks, Experiences and Products business, which suffered a $6.2 billion decline in revenue in the first half of the calendar year, compared to the same period in 2019.

All 12 of its parks in North America, Asia and Europe were closed between March and

May.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed parliament on Thursday, said her government had moved quickly to prevent intensive care facilities being overwhelmed.

"We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception," Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were "necessary and proportionate".

However she warned of difficult months ahead and said: "The winter will be hard."

After heavy criticism of a lack of coordination and planning in the initial phase of the crisis, European Union leaders aim to make progress on common testing and vaccination strategies at a video conference on Thursday.

The latest surge in new cases has put Europe back at the centre of the global pandemic, which has so far seen more than 44 million infections and 1.1 million deaths worldwide.

According to figures from the World Health Organization this week, the region accounted for almost half of new global infections in the previous seven days.

The United States has also seen a surge in new Coronavirus cases in the run up to next week's presidential election, with more than 80,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths reported on Wednesday.

By contrast, many Asian countries have begun to relax controls as the disease has been brought under control, with Singapore announcing it would ease restrictions for visitors from mainland China and the Australian state of Victoria.

Meanwhile, soldiers in Poland are giving Coronavirus tests. American National Guard troops with medical training are headed to the Czech Republic to work alongside doctors there.

A Czech university student is running blood samples to labs, and the mayor of the capital is taking shifts at a hospital.

With cases surging in many central European countries, firefighters, students and retired doctors are being asked to help shore up buckling health care systems.

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