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Pints poured, retail therapy: England readies for lockdown

Thirsty drinkers in England will be enjoying their final freshly poured pints in a pub for a month Wednesday while shoppers will get one last dose of retail therapy as the country prepares to join large swathes of Europe in lockdown as part of intensified efforts to contain the resurgent coronavirus.

Pubs, along with restaurants, hairdressers and other retailing outlets deemed to be selling non-essential items, such as books and sneakers, will have to close their doors Thursday until at least Dec. 2 following a sudden change of course last weekend by the British government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had for weeks argued in favor of more regional strategies to contain the virus, but said he had to be “humble in the face of nature.”

British lawmakers are set to approve the latest lockdown measures later so they can take effect at midnight.

Shoppers in Northumberland Street, ahead of a national lockdown for England which begins on Thursday, in Newcastle, England, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. A second lockdown in England is set to come into force on Thursday. It's a big blow to businesses that sweeps away any hopes that the British economy might have recovered by the end of this year a large proportion of the near 25% drop endured in the spring. (Owen HumphreysPA via AP)

“I don’t think any government would want to impose these measures lightly, or any parliament would want to impose these measures lightly on the people of this country,” Johnson said.

England’s lockdown follows similar restrictions elsewhere in the U.K. and across Europe, as nations grapple with mounting new COVID-19 infections and clear signals that the number of people being hospitalized — and subsequently dying — from the virus are increasing,

The World Health Organization said late Tuesday that there has been a “further acceleration” in the speed of the virus′ spread in Europe, which was responsible for about half the new cases reported around the world last week. In a weekly report, the U.N. agency also said European countries recorded a 46% increase in deaths compared with the previous week.

A pub offers 50 percent off some alcoholic beers, for drinkers in the Soho area of central London, Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020, ahead of a new national lockdown for England from Thursday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended his decision to impose a 4-week national lockdown after updated projections showed that rapidly rising infection rates risked swamping hospitals. (Yui MokPA via AP)

The virus' resurgence over the past couple of months has caught many European countries by surprise following a summer when infections were clearly down on where they had been in the spring during the first wave of the pandemic.

In recent days, many, including Belgium, France, Italy and the U.K. have reported their highest daily death tolls in months, prompting authorities to reintroduce restrictions to get ahead of the virus that has rampaged across the world, causing more than 1.2 million deaths — over 270,000 of them in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Particularly stringent rules now apply in France, for example, and more partial shutdowns are in effect in countries like Germany and Greece. England, which goes into lockdown on Thursday, will also face a severe lockdown even though it won't be as stringent as the one imposed in the spring — schools and universities haven't been closed while the manufacturing and construction sectors remain open.

Two women wait in line at a bakery in Antwerp, Belgium, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. Belgium, proportionally still the worst-hit nation in Europe when it comes to coronavirus cases, said Wednesday there increasing signs of that a turning point in the crisis was drawing close. The announcement came in the wake of increased measures over the past weeks with bar and restaurant closures capped by a partial lockdown starting last Monday, which further restricted close contacts and closing non-essential shops. (AP PhotoVirginia Mayo)

The spring lockdowns clearly worked in the sense of sharply reducing the rate of growth of new infections and then suppressing it to very low levels. There are some signals that the restrictions put up in the past few weeks are beginning to work too.

Belgium, which proportionally is the most-affected nation in Europe, said Wednesday that new infections and hospital admissions appear to have started to stabilize in the wake of the reimposition of new measures, such as the closure of pubs and restaurants.

“The high-speed train is slowing down,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht of the Sciensano government health group.

People receives flu vaccine at the Museum of science and technology in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The museum offered its ample spaces to a hospital in Milan in order to help people keeping safe distance while receiving the vaccine. Health officials and medical groups are urging people to get either the flu shot or nasal spray, so that doctors and hospitals don’t face the extra strain of having to treat influenza in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Van Gucht said it was important that people don't let their guard down in Belgium, which has been recording around 1,750 cases per 100,000 people, triple the rates being recorded in Italy, Spain and the U.K.

“Let there be no doubt that the tough rules need to be maintained,” he said.

Pope Francis also urged people to follow recommendations from government and public health authorities to prevent coronavirus infections as he held his weekly general audience in private amid a surge of infections in Europe.

A nurse watches customers line up at the front desk at the Museum of science and technology in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The museum offered its ample spaces to a hospital in Milan in order to help people keeping safe distance while receiving flu vaccine. Health officials and medical groups are urging people to get either the flu shot or nasal spray, so that doctors and hospitals don’t face the extra strain of having to treat influenza in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

The Vatican announced last week that Francis was suspending public audiences and would celebrate all upcoming liturgies without throngs of faithful present, after someone who attended his Oct. 21 audience tested positive.

Francis held his audience Wednesday in his private library with around 10 priests on hand to translate summaries of his catechism lesson. The livestreamed audience is the same setup Francis used during the Vatican’s nearly three-month COVID-19 lockdown in the spring and summer.

He said people have to be “very attentive” to the advice of political and health authorities to defend us against the pandemic.

People receives flu vaccine at the Museum of science and technology in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The museum offered its ample spaces to a hospital in Milan in order to help people keeping safe distance while receiving the vaccine. Health officials and medical groups are urging people to get either the flu shot or nasal spray, so that doctors and hospitals don’t face the extra strain of having to treat influenza in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

“We offer to the Lord this distance among us for the good of all,” he said.

All across Europe, the restrictions come with a heavy cost especially in the countdown to the crucial Christmas period, which many businesses rely upon to turn a profit. The latest decision, according to Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, represents nothing less than a “nightmare before Christmas.”

Not all countries are going down the lockdown route despite a sharp increase in infections. Russia, for example, has shunned a second lockdown, insisting that the health care system is able to cope with the surge, even as it reported another near 20,000 new infections and 389 new deaths — both at their highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.

A woman wearing a face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus walks through the garden of Saint Germain en Laye, west of Paris, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. France went into shutdown mode Friday, closing non-essential businesses and ordering residents to stay within one kilometre (half-mile) from home unless they're going to school or have an exceptional reason to leave. Permission slips are required to leave home, and violators fined 135 euros. Paris business center in the background. (AP Photo Michel Euler)

Associated Press writers around Europe contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Students students carry out their hours of remote distance learning in front of the Ministry of Education during a protest to ask for re-opening of schools. (Cecilia FabianoLaPresse via AP)

Students students carry out their hours of remote distance learning in front of the Ministry of Education during a protest to ask for re-opening of schools. (Cecilia FabianoLaPresse via AP)

A woman, wearing a face mask, mandatory for the use of public transport to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, walks to a metro carriage in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The Dutch government asked citizens to observe a "partial lockdown" but is considering imposing a curfew in some of the hardest hit regions of the country. (AP PhotoPeter Dejong)

A person, right, not wearing the mandatory face mask for the use of public transport, sits in a metro carriage in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The Dutch government asked citizens to observe a "partial lockdown" to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but is considering imposing a curfew in some of the hardest hit regions of the country. (AP PhotoPeter Dejong)

People walk through the deserted city in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Since Monday, Nov. 2 there is a curfew in Austria from 20.00 p.m. in the evening to 6.00 a.m.in the morning. (AP PhotoMatthias Schrader)