No leader can claim to be in control as Europe’s perilous state becomes clear

It wasn’t just the words that Emmanuel Macron said, but the way he said them.
The French president has generally been one for long speeches, peppered with rhetorical flourishes, bombast and dramatic pauses.

But here, as he told France about the threat of overrun hospitals, and the return to a sort of light-touch lockdown, we got a different Macron.
His speech was less than 20 minutes, instead of the 45-minute epics of earlier in the year, and it was sombre and almost introspective. He spoke of humility, of having underestimated the impact of this second wave.
It was, in short, a very un-Macron sort of speech. Which probably sums up the perilous state that France, and much of Europe, is now waking up to.


Across mainland Europe, people have become accustomed to living their lives governed by restrictions on where they can go, what time they can stay out, and on the requirement to wear a mask. But now, the rules are rapidly getting much tougher, driven by an abiding fear.

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Macron: ‘We must have a lot of humility’

The heart of Macron’s speech was about the state of intensive care facilities in France. Without action, he said, intensive care beds would fill up by mid-November, which is barely a fortnight away.

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Capacity is being expanded quickly, but Macron was clear that there were “no magic solutions”. That’s why he started France, firmly, back on the road towards lockdown.
Restaurants and bars will be shut. Schools are still open, so we probably can’t refer to this as a full national lockdown quite yet.
But it is near. You can’t travel from region to region without good reason. In fact, you can’t even leave your house without a piece of paper, known as an “attestation” that explains what you’re doing. The police can – and will – check these documents.
In Germany, rates are lower but restrictions are being tightened. In Belgium, the worst hit country in the whole continent, a raft of new regulations has been brought in, but they are expected to be enhanced this weekend.
There may even be a return to an actual “shut the schools, stay at home” lockdown, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the first wave of this virus.
What’s clear is that Europe’s leaders are, very quickly, becoming very concerned that a second wave could be just as devastating as the first.
They will hold a videoconference today to discuss how best to co-ordinate their response, so as to avoid the sort of fragmented closure of borders that we saw earlier this year. But will it work? Many are dubious.
As for the French, Macron’s announcement was greeted with a combination of sadness, resignation, irritation and nervousness.
There are plenty of people who wonder whether his government could have done more to prepare for this second wave, and that is a question I have heard raised with a variety of leaders around Europe.
But there is also an acceptance that, faced with a spiralling number of hospital admissions, no leader can simply blithely carry on as if things are under control. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and others, health systems are creaking.

Set against that, the idea that Paris’s pavement cafes could carry on welcoming dozens of customers to sit in rows, with the merest nod towards social distancing, was rapidly looking ridiculous. The hospitality industry is about to take another pounding.
Macron spoke of protecting the French people, but also of protecting the economy. I think that question has loomed large in the minds of European leaders over the past few months – how to restore some of the economic destruction of the earlier part of the year.
Now, I suspect, we are into a different phase. If a second wave is inevitable – and it is – the question is how to reshape the economy to survive the next 12 months.
Can any of these countries really afford to spend those vast sums again? Then again, can they afford not to mirror the support they provided first time around? Just how big can Europe’s collective debt mountain get?
The memories of the first wave are still fresh in everyone’s minds, and they, together with the statistics on hospitalisations and the capacity of intensive care units, will drive responses across Europe.
But one thing feels miserably inevitable – as France edges back along the road to lockdown, it won’t be going there alone.

Source : Sky News