The coronavirus surge was tightening its grip across Europe today as Germany closed its borders and France reported a rapidly worsening situation with the number of infections doubling every three days.
In Switzerland a battalion of army medics was being drafted in to help under-pressure hospitals, while Luxembourg followed its neighbours in closing restaurants and bars to slow the spread of the disease.
Large numbers of Britons on holiday, working or living abroad were also trying to make their way back to the UK with chaos reported at some Spanish airports as people tried to find seats on the declining number of available flights. Emergency military units were being deployed to keep passengers a safe distance apart to prevent the spread of infection in crowded departure halls.
In France, the luxury goods firm LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, said its cosmetics unit would switch to manufacturing hand disinfectant gel to help stave off a nationwide shortage.
In the Netherlands, panic buying took on a distinctive Dutch form with long queues witnessed outside cannabis shops as users of the drug sought to stock up in preparation for potential isolation and lockdown.
The new developments came as Europe — where Italy still has the largest number of cases with more than 1,800 confirmed deaths — continued to emerge as the new epicentre of the virus.
The day began with Germany’s re-introduction of border checks with France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark, which began at 7am.
People “without a significant reason to travel”, as well as anyone suspected of being infected, were told they could not enter although German citizens and others with a residence permit were still being allowed to return to their homes.
Commuters and goods were also still being allowed to cross, but the controls represent a dramatic extension in German action to tackle the virus. It has so far claimed eight lives in the country and caused 4,838 confirmed infections.
In France, the head of the country’s health service, Jerome Salomon, signalled that problems there are escalating too. He described the outbreak in France as “very worrying” and “deteriorating very fast” and added: “The number of cases double every three days.”
Mr Salomon said the number of seriously ill patients and those needing intensive care “runs into hundreds”.
There are currently 5,400 people infected in France, with 127 deaths already logged. But despite measures brought in over the weekend including a ban on crowds of more than 100, and the closure of non-essential shops, people were still breaking the new rules. Parks were full yesterday, while food was still being sold in takeaway stalls and markets were reported to be crowded.
Mr Salomon said that meant that his country “cannot manage to slow down the march of the epidemic”. He added: “France will very quickly be overrun if people do not conform to the new measures.”
Schools, colleges and universities were all shutting down, along with tourist attractions such as the Louvre museum and Eiffel Tower. Aides to President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, confirmed that a “full lockdown” was likely to be introduced “by Tuesday or soon afterwards. This will mean people only being able to leave their homes for food and medical supplies, or to attend their place of employment if they cannot work from home.”
The French army and police would enforce the ban, which would be introduced by emergency decree and include a 6pm curfew, said the presidential source.
Such a lockdown would be indefinite and be the first time that the most popular tourist city in the world has effectively shut down.
The British are the biggest tourist group to Paris, and many are already trying to get away before the situation gets even worse.
Eurostar high-speed train services to London were at the weekend offering passengers the chance to “make your way to the station and you will be placed on the next available service free of charge”.
Meanwhile, the exodus of Britons from Spain gathered speed today as airports witnessed scenes more typical of summer.
Hotels continued to empty ahead of closures caused by the coronavirus crisis as holidaymakers and expats tried to return to the UK.