French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a second national lockdown until at least the end of November.
Mr Macron said that under the new measures, starting on Friday, people would only be allowed to leave home for essential work or medical reasons.
Non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and bars, will close, but schools and factories will remain open.
Covid daily deaths in France are at the highest level since April. On Tuesday, 33,000 new cases were confirmed.
Mr Macron said the country risked being "overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first".
Mr Macron said that a new nationwide lockdown would be the only possible way to successfully fight Covid-19.
In France, more than half of the country’s intensive care units are already occupied by Covid-19 patients.
“Nothing is more important than human life,” Mr Macron, noting that France has one of the biggest coronavirus rates in Europe currently
The government is scheduled to lay out the details of the new lockdown on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Germany will impose an emergency lockdown that is less severe but includes the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres.
Ms Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and easing restrictions, agreed on the partial lockdown in a videoconference. It is set to take effect on Monday and last until the end of November.
Ms Merkel said, “We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency.”
Restaurants will still be allowed to serve take-out food. Shops and schools are to remain open, unlike during Germany’s shutdown during the first phase of the pandemic.
The decision came hours after Germany’s disease control agency said a record 14,964 new confirmed cases were recorded across the country in the past day, taking the national total in the pandemic to 449,275.
After they authorised the move, the chancellor appealed to people not to make unnecessary journeys and said hotels will not be able to accommodate people on tourist trips.
“We can say that our health system can cope with the challenge today,” Ms Merkel said. “But if the pace of infections continues like this, then we’ll reach the limits of what the health system can manage within weeks.”
The planning has caused anguish in Germany’s hospitality industry, with thousands of venue owners staging a protest on Wednesday at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate to demand further financial support from the government.
The World Health Organisation says the European region — which includes Russia, Turkey, Israel and Central Asia, according to its definition — accounted for almost half of the 2.8 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week.
The UN health agency said virus-related deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike since the previous week, as well as hospitalizations due to Covid-19.
“We are deep in the second wave,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.
“I think that this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas.”
The European Union, Britain, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland alone accounted for 1.1 million cases over the past seven days, she said, “and we expect this number to keep rising in the next two to three weeks, and rapidly”.
Overall, Europe has seen more than 250,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the outbreak, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the Czech Republic have also seen a surge in new cases over the past 14 days.
The loud but peaceful rally contrasted with angry scenes in the last few days, when anti-mask protesters clashed with police in the German capital, in several Italian cities and in the Czech Republic.
In Italy, Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, spoke out on Wednesday against a lockdown in the Lombardy capital, the epicentre of Italy’s new virus resurgence.
Ms Von der Leyen, the EU chief, acknowledged the growing toll that the continued crisis is taking.
“This time we have two enemies,” she said. “The coronavirus itself and corona fatigue, that is the growing weariness when it comes to the precautionary measures.”
Ms Von der Leyen insisted, however, that “now is not the time to relax.”