COVID-weary Europe enters another lockdown

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: lockdowns in Europe.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Over the summer, restrictions loosened across the continent. Now as COVID-19 cases spike to levels higher than those of the spring, European leaders are once again closing up their countries.

REICHARD: But this time leaders are trying to avoid the economic and social costs that followed earlier restrictions. WORLD correspondent Jenny Lind Schmitt reports.

JENNY LIND SCHMITT, CORRESPONDENT: This time, Germany is calling restrictions “lockdown lite.” Stores are staying open, but shoppers must wear masks. People are freer to travel, though strongly encouraged to stay home.

Sharon Page is a laboratory scientist in Munich, Germany. I spoke with her in April, just after Germany had its first lockdown. Back then people needed an official letter to travel beyond home for work. Almost all stores closed, and the government banned social gatherings.

PAGE: You’re allowed to meet up with one lot of people. It’s not quite as restrictive as last time, when it was literally nobody else. I think the reason they do that is for mental health so people can meet up with somebody … They’re trying to mitigate the worst problems. That’s the thing, you’ve got to keep infections down, but you don’t want everyone killing themselves to be brutal about it. They’re trying to keep people happier.

Churches are also open, even though singing is not allowed indoors. So at Page’s church, once the welcome is over, the congregation heads outside to sing, wearing masks. When it rains, they stay inside and only the worship leaders sing.

Page says most Germans follow the rules, but the combination of lockdown fatigue and a lack of personal experience with the virus, mean some don’t take government orders seriously. A growing number of Germans are criticizing the need for restrictions at all.

PAGE: It’s hard to persuade people when they don’t know anyone that’s had it, or they see it happening directly in front of them, that it’s necessary. Noncompliance is there, it just is.

Growing caseloads in the UK led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put England back into a month-long lockdown starting November 5th. All pubs, restaurants, and most stores are closed. Colleen Catterall lives outside Sheffield, in the north of England. Leaving home should be only for real necessity, and travel outside her county isn’t allowed.

CATTERALL: I think we’re more prepared for this one. Businesses are more prepared. They understand what’s required of them to stay COVID safe.

But churches must close again. That’s difficult after a summer of in-person worship services. And Catterall says that for one older member in particular, the loss of connection is even harder.

CATTERALL: She said It was a real blow to find out that church had to close again. She’s in her 80s.

The big change across Europe is that schools remain open, and governments are trying hard to keep them that way. That helps keep a semblance of normal life. Catterall’s oldest two daughters are at university, and while their classes are online, they are back living in their university communities.

Paola Terrazas and her husband Manuel Zamudio own a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Valencia, Spain. Their business felt the economic hit first hand. When the lockdowns began in March, they were still able to do some take away and drive-through business. They soon realized it wasn’t cost effective, so they closed their restaurants completely. Over the summer, Spain reopened internally, but was still closed to the foreign tourism that makes up 10 percent of Spain’s GDP.

ZAMUDIO: Those in Medisa, Mallorca, Benidorm and all these places were tremendously affected. They had a really bad summer. In our case, we were more exposed to local consumers and a little bit of local tourism, so we were able to recover in August about 90 percent of  the business that we had in February.

But they’re still recovering from spring’s financial blow. Government aid that helped pay employee salaries required them to agree not to lay off any employees. That’s something Terrazas and Zamudio already wanted to avoid. But with reduced sales and more restrictions coming, that agreement puts them in a corner.

ZAMUDIO: The last three weeks have been the lowest since we reopened. And we’re concerned. Because we had to assume a significant financial blow over the first hit. Now we need to be ready to avoid being more damaged by a second wave. Right now it’s very uncertain times.

Despite the uncertainty, Terrazas and Zamudio have found a way to live out their faith during the pandemic. They found charity partners to collect unused food from their restaurants for food banks. That kind of partnership is new for Spain.

ZAMUDIO: We were able to become the first franchisee in the country to have 100 percent of our restaurants donating food because of this pandemic.

Along with his pastor, Zamudio is also starting an entrepreneurship workshop at his church to help those who’ve lost their jobs in the downturn.

ZAMUDIO: The church is taking the charge in saying, can you help us to help others to start their own small business, regardless of the size, so they can become self-sufficient. So they can entrepreneur, and start a small business in the middle of this crisis.

In England, Colleen Catterall says there’s an overall sense of resignation to these lockdowns, but that people are also figuring out how to live their lives at the same time as living in a world with COVID-19.

CATTERALL: People are realizing, we don’t know when this is going to end, and so we need to be reasonable and thoughtful about what we’re doing. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Lind Schmitt in Porrentruy, Switzerland.

(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File) In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 file photo, empty tables of a bar and restaurant in the Covent Garden area of central London. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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