(Bloomberg) — New coronavirus infections climbed in Spain, Italy, France and Germany, while the U.K. said it’s extending its lockdown by a further three weeks to fight the spreading pandemic.
For European leaders, the increasing numbers on Thursday signaled no letup in the need to balance the severe economic damage caused by the tight restrictions to fight the pandemic with the increasing death toll and the danger that prematurely easing lockdowns could spark a second wave of infections.
“Relaxing any of the measures in place would damage both public health and the economy,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Boris Johnson while the prime minister recovers from an infection with the virus. “The worst thing we could do right now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of the virus.”
Spain, which has the second-most cases behind the U.S. and Europe’s second-highest death toll behind Italy, reported the biggest daily increase in infections in a week. New fatalities rose compared with the previous day.
Italy, where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is considering plans to ease restrictions, reported the most new cases in four days as tests rose to a daily record of 60,999. The number of deaths, hospitalized patients and intensive care patients all declined from the day before.
President Emmanuel Macron in France, which reported the most new cases in a single day on Thursday, has extended his lockdown and said the country was underprepared.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has started the slow process of easing restrictions, though some limits are set to remain for months.
On a conference call of Group of Seven leaders, Merkel defended the work of the World Health Organization after U.S. President Donald Trump said it took China’s claims about the coronavirus “at face value” and failed to share information about the pandemic as it spread. Washington has said it’s cutting funding to the UN agency.
“The chancellor made it clear that the pandemic can only be defeated with a strong and coordinated international response,” her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement. “In this context, she expressed full support for the WHO as well as a number of other partners.”
In contrast, the White House said in a statement that the G-7 leaders agreed the WHO needs “a thorough review and reform process.”
“Much of the conversation centered on the lack of transparency and chronic mismanagement of the pandemic by the WHO,” according to the statement.
To deal with pandemic’s battering of their economies, the heads of the European Union’s main institutions said the bloc must increase its budget resources as they seek a way around the gridlock over joint bond issuance.
EU leaders will have a “strategic discussion” about the spending plan during a conference call next week, European Council President Charles Michel said. An expanded budget should be “the mothership” of efforts to revive growth, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers in Brussels on Thursday.
Macron, in an interview with the Financial Times, said the EU needs “financial transfers and solidarity” to “hold on” through the coronavirus crisis. Failure to support hardest-hit EU member states will help populists to victory in Italy, Spain and perhaps France and elsewhere, he said.
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