With new restrictions likely to be announced for Britain on Tuesday, a look at other national responses offers a few clues as to what they might be. For reference, the UK seven-day case rate is currently 37.9 per 100,000.
Case rate: 97.5 per 100,000
Despite 10,000 new cases a day, the French are embracing life – not imposing new rules. That’s the verdict of Anthony Peregrine, our expat expert.
Some local measures have been imposed, of course. Café and bar hours are widely restricted – to half-past midnight in the Pas-de-Calais, for example, 1am in Rennes and midnight across Corsica – while the southern city of Nice banned public gatherings of more than 10 people. However, a nationwide lockdown is not on the cards despite France’s case rate being double the UK’s.
Peregrine says: “Having ordered one total lockdown, the French government is aware that to countenance a second would be to slam the door and chuck away the key. It is this balance – between coping with Covid while also maintaining a national structure to keep the citizenry sane, spending, in work and in education – that new prime minister Jean Castex has been aiming for.
“For a nation used to being bossed from Paris, the tactic is a departure. It’s made some people nervous and has, admittedly, given rise to anomalies. Classes and schools in certain regions have been closed because of one case of Covid; in other regions, they stay open though there are several cases. After a single Covid case at a primary school in Toulouse, nine classes – or 225 children – were sent home. The French Association of Pediatrics reckons that the benefits of school far outweigh the risk of Covid contamination in children – and advise that a class be closed only when three or more kids test positive. But it’s up to local councils and the prefect to decide. Thus far, 500 classes and 34 entire schools (out of 62,000 nationwide) have been closed.
“Other disparities creep in between regions. For instance, mask wearing is obligatory everywhere and at almost all times in Paris, Nantes and Riviera towns, but only in the centres of cities like Montpellier.
“That said, the advantage of local authorities being able to react to (often very) localised clusters and outbreaks is thought preferable to imposing the same restrictions across the board, so killing off the economy and rendering furious folk who have never met anyone affected by Covid. Though bouncing back, the illness has – let us recall – still been suffered (officially) by only 0.53% of the French population. It has ground to make up on the Black Death.
“I have the feeling – my evidence is entirely anecdotal – that the French are pulling in behind this non-hysterical approach. Certainly, it is permitting elements of regular life to resurface.”
Case rate: 157.8
The seven-day case rate in Spain (157.8 per 100,000) is more than three times that of the UK, and in certain parts of the country strict restrictions have been imposed. In Madrid, for example, local authorities have ordered a partial lockdown of some poorer areas, prompting protests over the weekend. Access to parks and public spaces, from today, is restricted, gatherings are limited to six people and commercial establishments have to close by 10pm.
The lockdown measures predominantly apply to areas of lower income and with higher immigrant populations. Peaceful protests were held in 12 of the 37 districts affected on Sunday, Reuters reported.
About 600 people demonstrated in the southern district of Vallecas, which has one of the highest infection rates in the Spanish capital.
“It is illogical that you can go and do things in wealthier areas, but you cannot do the same in Vallecas. There is the same risk of contagion. They are discriminating,” said Begona Ramos, 56, a protester, who is self-employed and lives in Vallecas. Demonstrators chanted, “Vallecas is not a ghetto”.
Other regions have seen similar measures. Murcia has limited its social gatherings to a maximum of six people; for Catalonia the limit is ten. However, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ruled out a second national lockdown in an interview with La Sexta TV on Saturday.
One measure the Spanish government is particularly keen on is masks: they are mandatory whenever you leave your house, regardless of your ability to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Spain’s rules on face coverings are the strictest in Europe, but also the most confusing.
Mark Naylor, writing for The Spectator, explains: “According to the most risible rule of all, you can now be fined for not wearing a face mask when you’re walking down the street, regardless of how many other people are around or how close they are to you. Juxtaposed with the lax regulations in bars and restaurants, this results in some truly surreal situations. To take just one: my girlfriend lives above a bar that’s packed, inside and out, most nights of the week. When we head down for a few tapas at the weekends, we’re legally obliged to don a mask to cross the two-metre patch of pavement that separates her apartment building from the bar. But once seated on the crowded terrace, surrounded by unmasked strangers, we can take them off. Whichever way you look at this combination of severity and laxity, it’s senseless.
“Santiago Moreno, head of infectious diseases at Madrid’s Ramon y Cajal hospital, recently told Spanish daily El Pais why he was in favour of mandatory face masks at all times, even when social distancing can be observed – something the paper described as a ‘conceptual necessity’: ‘By being so strict, those who don’t meet [the rules] will feel like they are breaking the law’, said Moreno. It’s hard to think of a more succinct or enthusiastic endorsement of Spain’s oppressive mask culture. Because the rules governing their usage are so inconsistent, and their efficacy far from obvious, the only decent reason to wear them now is to avoid a hefty fine by the over-empowered police.”
Case rate: 70
The UK’s scientific advisors raised a few eyebrows recently when they said Britain should try to be less like Spain and France, and more like Belgium, when it comes to dealing with a second peak. That’s right, Belgium: a country one fifth the size of Britain with the world’s second worst Covid death rate per capita (and whose infection rate of 70 per 100,000 is almost double Britain’s). So what measures have the Belgians introduced?
Once again it is local lockdowns that have been favoured, not nationwide measures, as well as masks. “It is mandatory to carry a mask with you and to wear it in all locations where social distancing cannot be guaranteed,” the Foreign Office explains. “This includes public transport, all indoor public spaces, busy shopping streets, and bars and restaurants when not seated. Late-opening shops are required to close at 10pm, and local authorities have been empowered to take additional measures in the event of a spike in the numbers of local cases. These powers range from requiring that face masks be worn in additional locations and circumstances, to introducing localised lockdowns.”
One such local lockdown was seen in Antwerp, where a night-time curfew was put in place for one month from July 28. For the first two weeks, all residents were told to remain at home, and all businesses forced to close, from 1130pm until 600am. The hours were then changed to 130am-5am, before the curfew was suspended at the end of August after a fall in new cases.
Writing last month, Telegraph Travel’s Belgium expert, Antony Mason, said: “Faced with rising figures, the Belgian government recently reversed some of the ‘deconfinement rules’, for instance reducing from ten to five the number of people from outside one’s family social bubble that each person is allowed to meet per week.
“The Belgians are pretty stoic in adversity. Their country has been trashed by historical events enough times to teach them to hunker down, to rely on consensus, civic obedience and community resilience. While they may have a sullen disdain for – and low expectations of – their government, at national and EU level, they expect them somehow to muddle through.”
Case rate: 348
One country to have foisted on its people a second full countrywide lockdown is Israel, where the seven-day case rate is a world leading 348 per 100,000. The rules are harsh, with people unable to travel more than 1,000 metres from their homes, gatherings of more than 10 people inside banned, and schools, restaurants, many shops, gyms, hairdressers and hotels ordered to close.
It went into effect last week on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and was met with dismay.
Dana Regev, writing for Telegraph Travel last week, said: “Unlike in previous years, people are not busy with holiday preparations, but rather, are in a rush to arrange impromptu dinners, hoping to see their relatives one last time before lockdown begins. Between friends, on WhatsApp groups or on Facebook, people are sharing advice on how to survive what many feel are draconian measures, such as the requirement to remain within 500 metres of one’s home or the complete prohibition of takeaway services.
“Adding insult to injury is the constant revision of the guidelines, contributing to the general feeling of desperation and apathy – a reaction almost unheard of during the first lockdown in mid-March. Admittedly, as a news junky myself, there were days when I received more than five different push notifications, each alerting me to a new change to the guidelines. Even the most obedient citizen would find it hard to follow, let alone when many rules seem quite arbitrary, leaving Israelis to wonder why group prayers are allowed but family gathering aren’t, or what exactly the Health Ministry means by naming ‘helping a person in distress’ an approved exception.
“Very few Israelis deny the existence of Covid-19 or its severe health risks, as the country has recorded over 162,000 cases and more than 1,140 deaths. Rather, they are frustrated at the way the crisis has been handled and are far more sceptical of the government’s intentions than before.
“With weekly demonstrations against Netanyahu and his government which draw thousands, and a resignation of an ultra-Orthodox minister over prayer limitations in synagogues, many Israelis are doubting the official reasons behind the measures.
“Merely six months ago, people were still obsessively spraying fruits and vegetables with disinfectant, refraining from family visits, and adjusting to the strictest of rules with the not-uncommon approach of ‘we’re in this together.’ Now, Israel has one of the world’s highest infection rates. To put it in one of my friend’s words: Israelis feel like their own government is gaslighting them, and there aren’t many things Israelis despise more than dishonesty and indirectness.”
More fresh rules from around the world
Ireland (case rate: 37.3)
Since midnight last Friday, restaurants and cafes in Dublin have been banned from offering indoor dining. The city’s pubs also remain closed. Ross Lewis, chef proprietor of Michelin-starred Chapter One in Dublin 1, told The Irish Times he was “shocked and surprised” at the sudden move. He believes restaurants are being unfairly targeted: “I think unfortunately we are the ones being punished. The small business sector is a tough place to be at the moment and it’s very disheartening.”
Denmark (case rate: 49.9)
Until at least October 4, Denmark has lowered maximum public gathering numbers from 100 to 50 (with exceptions for events that mostly involve sitting – such as spectators at football matches) and ordered all bars and restaurants to close by 10pm (a measure that had previously been enforced only in the Copenhagen area).
Netherlands (case rate: 67)
Bars and cafes in the most densely populated regions of the Netherlands, as of yesterday, have been told to close by 1am after the country saw infection rates rise, particularly among students and young adults. As well as the early closing of hospitality establishments, gatherings of more than 50 people will now have to apply for a permit from local authorities. The restrictions apply in six regions mostly in the densely populated west of the country including the capital, Amsterdam, as well as Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
Iceland (case rate: 41)
To counter a spike in coronavirus cases, bars and discos were ordered to close for four days in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, on Friday. Of the 59 new cases recorded in Iceland last week, 58 were in the Reykjavik region. At least a quarter of the latest infections have been linked to bars and nightclubs in the city centre, the rest have been recorded at two universities in the capital.
Peru (case rate: 124)
A strict lockdown didn’t prevent Peru becoming the country with the most Covid deaths per capita, but it is still imposing swingeing restrictions. Writing for Telegraph Travel, Lima resident Simeon Tegal says: “Socializing is now thought to be the country’s principal source of new contagions, especially family meet-ups, often over a traditional Sunday meal. In a bid to address this, President Martín Vizcarra recently reimposed a total lockdown on the Sabbath. On the first Sunday, 22,000 police and military patrolled the capital, arresting more than 1,000 people for simply being in the street.”
Italy (case rate: 17)
It has avoided the sharp spikes seen in Spain and France, but Italy has also seen cases rise in recent weeks prompting it to make its mask rules stricter. Despite clear proof that the risk of catching Covid outdoors is vanishingly small, masks must now be worn outside in Italy. Not all the time, however. They are mandatory outside only between the hours of 6pm and 6am – because that is when the virus comes calling, apparently – and only “in proximity of locations and premises that are open to the public, as well as in public spaces whose physical characteristics may facilitate the formation of gatherings of both spontaneous and/or occasional nature”.