Europe’s resurgent coronavirus outbreak is threatening to shut down Paris’s culinary institutions, spurring record cases in the continent’s east and sidetracking a European Union summit.
The disease is spreading at such a pace in Paris that positive tests and the number of intensive-care patients have climbed past the “maximum alert” level, and the government may have to require bars and restaurants as soon as Monday if the trend continues, according to French Health Minister Olivier Veran.
Representatives of France’s hospitality industry are trying to thwart the move and plan to present proposals to authorities as soon as Friday.
The move comes amid a spate of tighter restrictions across Europe, putting at risk a stumbling recovery after national lockdowns hammered economies in the second quarter.
Highlighting the increasing alarm, EU leaders went off topic to discuss the pandemic for three hours in Brussels, which wasn’t on the agenda. The debate focused on coordinating responses, an area where the bloc’s record has been poor.
“Everybody was concerned that the numbers are rising again,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting in Brussels. “All are aware that the most difficult months are ahead of us.”
EU summits are well-choreographed events and addressing ad-hoc topics is rare. Leaders were supposed to debate industrial policy, how to reduce “strategic dependencies” on complex supply chains, and then get a brief update on Brexit negotiations at the Friday gathering.
“There is an extreme concern from everyone about how we can keep our economies open and contain the spread of the virus at the same time,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “It is good to have European and not national policies” on crucial issues, and that approach is working well in areas like vaccine development, but less in terms of travel, he said.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the differences in travel policies were too large. “People are confused and some business travel is restricted so massively that it causes economic damage,” he said, adding that a negative virus test should allow travelers to avoid quarantine.
Trends since the end of the summer break are worrying. New Covid-19 cases hit daily records in Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, which declared a state of emergency this week after becoming the second-worst outbreak on the continent. Ukraine had its third record increase in a row on Friday.
London residents are being told to take immediate action to avoid catching and spreading the disease amid warnings that the U.K. capital is at a “tipping point.” Germany had the most new daily infections since April on Friday.
In Italy, which also reported a five-month high, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is seeking to extend his emergency powers to Jan. 31 and may make wearing face masks outdoors a national requirement.
New cases in Germany are “predominantly due to transmission at family and other private events,” the country’s Robert Koch Institute said in its latest situation report. To counter the risk, Merkel’s government this week recommended limits on public and private gatherings in hard-hit areas.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to avoid a second nationwide lockdown, but targeted measures have shown little impact. The country’s virus cases have increased the most in Europe over the past two months and monthly Covid-related deaths tripled in September.
Unlike the initial phase of the pandemic, there is greater opposition to containment efforts, which has spurred protests across Europe, including an effort to break into the German parliament in Berlin. In Spain, which has the highest number of infections on the continent, the virus fight has been bogged down by infighting.
Madrid is considering challenging coronavirus restrictions ordered by the national government to “defend the interests” of its people, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the region’s president, said in the local parliament on Thursday.
The resistance to measures, such as reducing capacity and operating hours of shops and public services in cities, has political undertones. The Madrid region is controlled by the main opposition party to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government.
In France, local lawmakers are pushing back against government measures, which mark the first significant tightening of restrictions on movement since the lockdown ended in May. While an administrative court in Marseille on Wednesday upheld an order to close restaurants and bars for 15 days, a court in Rennes suspended a decree to shut sports halls and gyms.
After “lively” reactions to the temporary shutdown in hard-hit Marseille, “we have to take the opportunity to discuss with restaurant owners,” Gabriel Attal, French government spokesman, said in an interview with LCI television on Friday. “We will look at how things develop.”
There are hopeful developments. Marseille is showing signs of improvement after being placed on maximum virus alert a week ago. Indicators tracked by health authorities are also better in Nice and Bordeaux, while deteriorating in five major cities including Lyon and Toulouse, the French health minister said.