Fury, Resistance in Europe Over New Doomsday Cult Lockdowns

As governments once again shut businesses across Europe to stop a surge in coronavirus infections, acceptance of restrictions is fading and some small businesses are refusing to cooperate.

The sense of a common goal and solidarity with front-line medical workers evident in the spring has given way to frustration among restaurateurs, hoteliers, retailers and other business owners who are rapidly running through their financial reserves.

This month’s lockdowns are more targeted than in the spring and in some cases come with substantial aid for those affected. Yet they are raising more opposition everywhere, from lawsuits in Germany to riots and demonstrative flouting of the rules in Italy.

Restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment and sport venues will largely close under the new measures. In France, curfews will confine people to their homes. Germany is barring hotels from hosting tourists for a month and banning normally legal prostitution.

“The government wasted the summer and didn’t prepare for the second wave which everyone knew was coming, and now they are using the same lockdown as before,” said Antonio Bragato, owner of the Il Calice restaurant in Berlin. “But this will not end the pandemic.”

Mr. Bragato took out a loan of €250,000, equivalent to $292,000, during the first lockdown. He has since invested into outdoors heating and an indoor ventilation system. The restaurant hasn’t had a single coronavirus case among staff or guests, he said.

The German restaurateur association Dehoga said it was considering suing the government, saying revenues between March and August had dropped 40% from the same period last year. A third of 245,000 businesses are now facing closure, it said.

Berlin bar owners successfully sued the local government earlier this month after it forced all bars in the city to close at 11 p.m.

Health clubs also are pushing back. “This is a catastrophe that comes after all the investment we made into hygiene concepts,” said Frank Böhme, chief executive of a gym chain in Cologne. “I am forced to take legal action against it…but I fear many businesses will not survive the winter.”

In Paris, Eric Hassan on Thursday was busy shutting down his large antiques shop in front of the Élysée Palace, seat of the French president, that used to cater to international clients.

“We were already sinking, and now we will definitely sink,” said Mr. Hassan, who also manages other antiques outlets in the French capital. “What we have been building our entire life is disappearing, the economy is collapsing—but those politicians and senators, they will still have their salaries and their pensions.”

Mr. Hassan, who said he was ill with Covid-19 in March, said the mood has changed this time around. “A lot of people won’t respect these restrictions. At the time, we were all good soldiers and did what we were told. But now, no longer. People have to feed their families.”

At brasserie Au XV Du Rond Point, evening shift manager Josiane Doyhenart warned that “if the government now tries to prevent people from seeing each other and their families on Christmas, there will be a revolution in this country.”

Politicians defended the new restrictions as necessary as hospitals swell with Covid-19 patients. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, on Wednesday said the spread of the virus was exceeding the most pessimistic predictions.

France recorded over 50,000 new coronavirus cases Monday. Mr. Macron said the lockdown could help bring that figure back down to 5,000 by Dec. 1.

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, warned that her country was in a dramatic situation after new confirmed cases reached 16,000 on Thursday, a record. The measures—which include shutting restaurants, bars, gyms, concert halls and theaters—are necessary and proportionate, she told parliament.

Yet opposition parties that supported her government in the spring now question whether the new constraints are worth the economic toll—and if they can ever be lifted for good.

“We hope that the measures will stop the current wave, but what will happen in December?,” said Christian Lindner, leader of the opposition Free Democrats, speaking to parliament. “Will there be another lockdown in January? No one is speaking about that.”

The German government wants to soften the economic impact with €10 billion in aid. While details remained sketchy Thursday, the Economics Ministry said it would offer quick support to large companies, small businesses and freelancers affected by the new measures.

The aid will include grants worth up to 75% of these businesses’ November 2019 revenue.

A Forsa poll for German broadcaster RTL on Thursday showed 50% of Germans supported the measures while a third found them excessive and 16% thought they were insufficient.

The French government said it would help out small companies that have to shut by contributing to their payroll and distributing cash payments of up to €10,000 to firms with fewer than 50 employees. French employers’ organizations say these measures are insufficient to stave off a wave of bankruptcies.

The Italian government approved aid to shore up businesses worth more than €5 billion, including grants, funding to extend furloughs and tax holidays.

So far, this has done little to defuse opposition in Italy, which spilled over into the streets on Sunday when the new measures were announced. Some protests turned violent, with fringe groups of far-right organizations and other individuals attacking shops and the police.

The latest Italian measures, introduced Monday and running until Nov. 24, include the closure of all bars and restaurants at 6 p.m., the suspension of many sporting and leisure activities, and a return to online classes for some high-school students.

“The new measures are based on principles of maximum caution, proportionality and adequacy,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told parliament on Thursday.

Yet a survey by pollster SWG published on Monday found that only 28% of respondents in Italy considered the new measures adequate, while 36% believe they are insufficient and 25% excessive. The remaining 11% didn’t have an opinion.

“They are destroying ordinary people. They are taking away our future,” said Giorgio Perna, owner of Bistrot Bonaccorsi, a restaurant in the northern Italian city of Bologna, who said he makes 70% of his sales after 5 p.m.

Mr. Perna said he decided to keep the restaurant open beyond 6 p.m. and has already received three €400 fines. He stuck the fines on a wall inside his restaurant.

“It’s a matter of survival,” said Mr. Perna, who said he has debts of hundreds of thousand euros. On Wednesday night he served 250 meals, a sign that clients are supporting him, he added.

Clients are also backing Chiara Casatello, owner of New Diego Caffè in Rovato, a city in northwestern Italy, who has been keeping her bar open until 8 p.m. and has stuck a sign on the window reading “I am not shutting at 6. Arrest me.”  She said four lawyers have already offered to represent her if she gets in legal trouble.

“I am so angry,” she said. “This time is completely different. People just don’t understand what’s going on.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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