Europe edging towards total coronavirus lockdown

The “sense of emergency is growing,” In a matter of days, the number of coronavirus cases in Italy more than tripled to at least 31,506 this week, and the death toll rocketed above 2,503. The outbreak—likely sparked by travelers from China—began in the north but has now spread as far south as Sicily. Hundreds more coronavirus infections have sprung up across the European Union, many of which have been traced back to Italy. The coronavirus has upended daily life here. At least 11 northern Italian towns have been placed under quarantine, and nearby hospitals say they are overwhelmed. In Milan, which isn’t officially locked down, bars and restaurants have been shuttered and public offices closed. Coronavirus is sickening our economy, The disease has hit the tourism industry “like a tsunami.” Landmarks such as the Colosseum, usually packed with sightseers, are virtually empty. In Florence, all major conferences planned for March— more than 100 events—have been canceled. The impact of losing Chinese tourists is immense; they spent more than $720 million here last year. We can only hope that the wave recedes quickly.

France could soon see an outbreak on the scale of Italy’s, Authorities understand that the 7,730 cases and 175 deaths we’ve seen so far are just the beginning. That’s why “large indoor gatherings have been prohibited” and events such as the Paris half-marathon have been canceled. We are instructed not to kiss one another upon greeting or even to shake hands. The Labor Ministry said businesses can mandate teleworking, and that workers whose children are ordered confined will be given automatic, government-compensated paid leave to care for them.

Europeans are reeling from the rate of acceleration, Just a week ago, the virus seemed abstract, something happening far away in Asia. Now, we “can follow the spread of the virus in the chyron” on cable news. All day, all night, we’re being reminded to wash our hands and not to bother attempting to find masks. We hear of a new case in Cologne and wonder how many people she might have touched. But so far, there’s no need to panic. The Cologne patient, for example, “did everything right,” isolating herself and reporting immediately to the authorities. While we can’t halt the spread of the virus, we can certainly slow it down.

But are we overreacting? Even if it spreads widely, it seems unlikely that more Europeans will die of the virus than of the flu, which claims up to 180,000 lives a year. Yet by “shutting off entire communities, school systems, and trade routes,” governments are “not only spreading panic but perhaps standing in the way of solutions.” After all, the health-care industry needs global trade in order to function. The effect of all these quarantines and cancellations “may turn out to be worse than the virus.”