MILAN (Reuters) – European leaders warned of a bleak winter as resurgent COVID-19 infections forced countries to impose new restrictions to try to curb a second wave of the pandemic, with the United States and France setting new daily records for cases.
More than 42.9 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,151,929 have died, according to a Reuters tally, with the United States leading with the highest number of deaths and infections.
Word that a vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc produced immune responses in both elderly and young people offered some positive news as autumn turns to winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock cautioned that the vaccine would not be widely available until next year and said “we’re not there yet”.
Elsewhere in Europe the picture was unrelentingly grim as a string of countries reported record increases, led by France, which posted more than 50,000 daily cases for the first time on Sunday, while the continent passed the threshold of 250,000 deaths.
Governments have been desperate to avoid the lockdowns which curbed the disease at the start of the year at the cost of shutting down their entire economies. But the steady rise in new cases has forced them to tighten curbs.
“We are facing very, very difficult months ahead,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of leaders from her Christian Democrat party, according to daily Bild.
Although Germany has fared relatively well compared to other countries in Europe, it too has seen a sharp rise in cases and the closely watched Ifo business climate index fell on Monday, reflecting the worries over the virus.
The gloom around the resurgent virus weighed on financial markets. Global shares started the week on the back foot, while China’s leaders meet to ponder the future of the economic giant..
In Spain, which has had more than a million cases of the disease, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned the country was facing an “extreme” situation as he announced a new state of emergency on Sunday, imposing local nighttime curfews and banning travel between regions in some cases.
Italy, the country worst hit in the early stages of the crisis in March, also imposed new curbs, ordering restaurants and bars to close from 6 p.m. and shutting down cinemas, and gyms and imposing local curfews in several regions.
Street clashes with small groups of protesters over the weekend and angry criticism from restaurant owners and business groups about the impact of the measures underlined the increasingly tense climate facing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
The virus, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year, has overshadowed campaigning ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, with Democratic candidate Joe Biden accusing President Donald Trump of grossly mishandling the pandemic.
In total, more than 225,300 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States.
Trump has repeatedly claimed progress in combating what he calls the “China virus” even as the United States set records in recent days for the number of daily infections.
Vice-President Mike Pence forged ahead with campaigning on Sunday despite close aides testing positive.
“There’s no nation in the world that’s recovered like we’ve recovered,” Trump told supporters in New Hampshire on Sunday, many not wearing protective masks.