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U.K. COVID-19 Restrictions Tighten As Europe Sees Spike In Cases


In Western Europe, summers seemed almost normal, but that's ending, along with the warm weather, as the coronavirus surges once again, and countries impose tighter restrictions. That includes the United Kingdom, which is trying to avoid a second nationwide lockdown. And that's where we find NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bad news in the U.K. What is driving this surge of infections? And what's the government there doing about it?

LANGFITT: Well, what we've seen so far - I mean, yesterday we were up around 15,000 new cases. And that's up from maybe 2,300 in early September. So a big jump. Deaths are about 150, and the highest rates seem to be among older teenagers and young adults, which suggests a lot of this is coming from socializing and pub life - things like that. And so right now, we're seeing sort of regional and city lockdowns because they don't want to lock down everything. So London - different households are banned from mixing now. So we actually cancelled dinner with a couple tonight that we were going to have, which is no problem but just a sign of way things are changing. And then pubs and bars up in Liverpool - they've been closed for a little while. And that's where the brother of the mayor actually died from COVID-19 on Friday night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The U.K. has had the highest death toll in Europe. Boris Johnson's government has come in for a lot of criticism over that. As you mentioned, the numbers are rising again. What does this mean for him and his government?

LANGFITT: I think it's just more strain on the government. And I think it's having a big impact on kind of the way the country holds together. You know, as you and I have been talking over the years, the country was deeply divided, really since - at least since the Brexit vote. And the coronavirus is widening those divisions. So give an example - Johnson is putting pressure on parts of the North of England to close pubs and restaurants. And he's in a standoff right now with the mayor of Greater Manchester. His name's Andy Burnham. He's resisting, and he says he wants sent financial support from the central government. Now, Burnham, I should mention, is from the opposition Labour Party. Meanwhile, over in Wales, we have 17 areas in lockdown. And people in Wales have made it clear, the government there has made it clear it doesn't want people coming in from England or highly infected regions in England. So you get a sense of kind of the borders of this country getting tighter and tighter in a way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, speaking of the borders, Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. And you were there last week. What is the situation there?

LANGFITT: Yeah, that was really an eye opener, that trip. We were up there for about four days. Bars, restaurants, pubs closed in Edinburgh and Glasgow. And in Scotland, what's interesting, Lulu, is there's a lot of support for Scotland's first minister. Her name's Nicola Sturgeon. She's been very good, I think, in explaining policies clearly to people facing the press pretty much every day on COVID. There's been a lot of criticism in Scotland and beyond at Boris Johnson. And what people have seen is confused messaging. He's also - Boris Johnson - you may remember this story. He refused to fire a chief adviser of his earlier this year for breaking COVID lockdown by driving across the country. And a lot of people see that as a double standard, particularly up in Scotland. And so I was talking to a woman named Farzana Hawke (ph). She's a pharmacist, and she lives up north of Edinburgh. And this is what she thinks.

FARZANA HAWKE: I do not believe a word that Boris Johnson says. They have made a number of errors and not one person in his cabinet has taken responsibility. We have worn masks from the day Nicola Sturgeon announced we should do. We are not having any of these antimaskers protests that they have done in England.

LANGFITT: And you can really see a political impact here because the perception that the Scottish government has handled this better has actually fueled the independence movement up there. So for the first time, we're seeing polls showing a majority of Scots consistently supporting actually leaving the United Kingdom.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's widen this out a bit briefly. What's the picture in the rest of Europe?

LANGFITT: France even worse than the U.K., about 30,000 infections a day. And nine cities there have curfews. Spain is averaging about 12,000 a day. And in Madrid and Barcelona, you have - bars and restaurants are closed. Germany, much better - a different story - about 8,000 a day or so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Thank you very much.

LANGFITT: Very welcome, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.