France cautious after Austria, Germany impose strict measures

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French Junior Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher in Paris on October 18, 2021.

ERIC PIERMONT | AFP | Getty Images

French Industry Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said Friday that the government was “very cautiously” monitoring Europe’s latest wave of Covid-19 infections, urging citizens to get vaccinated to ensure stricter measures won’t be necessary.

It comes at a time when many countries in Europe are imposing tougher public health restrictions to tackle a sharp upswing in Covid infections.

Earlier on Friday, Austria became the first country in western Europe this fall to impose a full national lockdown.

The World Health Organization has once again recognized Europe as “at the epicenter” of the coronavirus pandemic, with the region accounting for the vast majority of new cases and deaths in recent weeks.

“The situation seems to be, and as you can see I am cautious, slightly better than in Austria and than in Germany. Maybe it is because we have achieved a level of vaccination coverage that is quite high,” Pannier-Runacher told CNBC’s Karen Tso on Friday.

“We have some kind of tight control on the sanitary situation but obviously we will follow that closely in the coming days,” she added.

France recorded 20,366 Covid infections on Thursday, registering more than 20,000 new daily infections for the second consecutive day as the latest wave of the epidemic picks up speed.

Around 69% of the French population are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That’s slightly higher than the vaccination rate in Austria and Germany, although significantly behind countries like Spain and Portugal.

A spokesperson for the French government said earlier this week that no additional measures were on the agenda, adding that the focus would be on vaccine uptake to limit the number of people being admitted to the hospital.

‘Please get vaccinated’

When asked whether the economic hit from another lockdown would be comparable to Europe’s first wave of Covid infections last year, Pannier-Runacher replied: “I don’t think so because we now know how to organize ourselves.”

“But this would not be a good piece of news to be in a position to take some higher control measures. So, that is why we are pushing people to get vaccinated and that will be my key message: Please get vaccinated,” she said.

“This is today the only weapon we have against this virus and it seems to be quite effective even if it is not perfect.”

Austria’s government said on Friday it would implement lockdown measures from Monday for an initial period of 10 days, warning the measures could remain in place for up to 20 days. The country’s unvaccinated are already barred from leaving their homes for non-essential purposes.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the government plans to make Covid vaccination mandatory for the whole population by February next year, adding that this was necessary to prevent a further wave of infections.

Austria on Thursday recorded 15,145 new Covid cases, setting another record high for daily positive tests. Hospitalizations, deaths and the number of Covid patients in ICU are also rising fast.

Around 65% of Austria’s population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, which Schallenberg has previously described as “shamefully low.”

Meanwhile, roughly 68% of Germany’s population has been fully vaccinated. Both countries have among the lowest rates of vaccination in western Europe.

Germany reported more than 65,000 new cases on Thursday, with health officials warning that the true number of cases could be two or three times as many. Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this week that the latest Covid wave was hitting the country with “full force.”

— CNBC’s Chloe Taylor contributed to this report.

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