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'A new storm is brewing across Europe': As Ireland reels from Covid surge, how are other countries faring?

While case numbers in most areas aren’t on the scale Ireland has been facing, lockdown measures are common around Europe at this time.

File photo. A quiet Parisian street this week.
File photo. A quiet Parisian street this week.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE GRIM FIGURES and statistics in Ireland’s fight against Covid-19 have been mounting rapidly in recent weeks. 

Since mid-December, a sharp and exponential rise in cases has seen the number of people in hospital now more than double the first wave peak and the health system pushed to the brink. 

The spike in Ireland has coincided with a relaxation of restrictions heading into the Christmas period. 

Ireland started this week with the unwelcome title of worst in the world in terms of new Covid cases per capita.

Similarly, other European countries which also relaxed some restrictions around Christmas time are dealing with problems of their own in the first month of 2021. Even in countries that didn’t relax restrictions significantly,  higher case numbers are being seen now than during the summer and early autumn.

Just yesterday, the continent exceeded 30 million confirmed cases of the virus. 

Here, we’ll take a look at how other countries across the continent are coping with Covid-19 this January, and how Ireland compares.

UK

If we were to look at daily new confirmed cases per million people, the last time Ireland was very close to the UK, pre-mid December, was on 20 October.

At that time, Ireland was a few days into a new round of Level 5 restrictions to help stem the tide of the second wave.

Different sections of England were placed under different tiers of restrictions at this time, with some under less restrictions than others. 

While their cases continued to rise until mid November, ours continued to fall throughout that month. 

After a dip towards the end of the month, the number of daily cases in the UK began to rise significantly around the same time that they did in Ireland on 9-10 December.

The difference in the UK was that it was spiking from a much higher baseline of daily cases per capita than Ireland was. 

On 10 December, the UK had 240 new daily cases per million people. That same figure in Ireland was 57 cases.

By Christmas week, Boris Johnson’s plans to allow the easing of restrictions and family visits for much of the country was being abandoned. 

He told London and the south east that the easing of restrictions could not go ahead, and they couldn’t leave their area.

Similarly in Ireland, cases spiked massively and quickly. It wasn’t until 6 January that Ireland’s almost vertical rise eclipsed the cases per capita in the UK. 

Daily case numbers in the UK have regularly exceeded 50,000 so far this year. There are over 36,000 people in hospital with Covid-19, and this has doubled since mid-December. It’s more than at any time during the pandemic so far.

The UK is also seeing the number of daily deaths match and eclipse those seen during the first wave. On its deadliest day so far, 1,564 were confirmed to have died with Covid-19 on Wednesday

While our number of daily confirmed cases is significantly higher now than in the UK, the number of daily confirmed deaths per capita remains lower. 

The UK government’s tiered approach saw much of England under tiers 2 or 3 heading into December. Even under tier 3, non-essential shops, hairdressers and restaurants were permitted to remain open – although the sale of alcohol was banned in restaurants. 

However, the entire country is now under the strict tier 4 which is similar to the Level 5 lockdown in operation here, with schools also closed. 

Although daily case numbers are starting to fall, it’s being warned that the health service is still under severe pressure and will remain so for the coming weeks. 

Peak demand on hospitals might not be reached until “early to mid-February” amid fears “unsustainable” workloads could lead to staff leaving, MPs were warned this week.

As of yesterday, the UK has had 86,000 deaths and 3.2 million confirmed cases.

France

“The time has not yet come to return to normal,” said French Prime Minister Jean Castex last Thursday.

As Ireland was entering November in Level 5 and was already beginning to see falling case numbers, other countries in Europe were facing record highs.

France was one of them. 

On 29 October, President Emmanuel Macron announced a second national lockdown until at least the end of November. 

On 3 November, it recorded the same number of daily confirmed cases per million people as the UK did last Tuesday. 

That began to fall significantly as case numbers reflected the introduction of the fresh lockdown. 

On 28 November, it was announced that some non-essential services could re-open while travel restrictions were then lifted on 15 December.

Despite the lifting of lockdown measures in mid-December, bars, gyms and cultural centres remain closed. The number of people in hospital and ICU has remained somewhat stable and lower than peaks seen in November. 

In December and heading into January, France’s numbers did not rise in a similar manner to Ireland or the UK. 

There are concerns now that the presence of the new variant first identified in the UK could worsen the situation as case numbers have begun to climb again. 

A strict curfew is set to come into effect between the hours of 6pm and 6am. People are being asked to work from home, but shops remain open. 

Schools also remain open at this time. 

The French government is trying to avoid a third lockdown with partial measures like curfews which Prime Minister Jean Castex called both “preventative” and “reactive”.

However, health officials in France remain worried that a new spike could necessitate stricter lockdown measures in the coming weeks. 

At present, Ireland’s daily case numbers are around three times that of France per capita. 

As of yesterday, France has had 69,000 deaths in total and 2.85 million confirmed cases. 

Germany

The situation in Germany has become the worst it’s been in terms of case numbers since the beginning of the pandemic in recent weeks. 

While its case numbers per capita are significantly below Ireland – and currently at a similar level to France – its hospitals are also under pressure. 

A nationwide lockdown saw the closure of all non-essential businesses and schools from 16 December. Schools remain closed at present in Germany. 

More than 5,000 Covid-19 patients are currently in intensive care nationwide, with over 80% of intensive care beds occupied.

Germany has closed schools and non-essential shops, culture and leisure facilities until at least January 31 in hope of slowing the outbreak.

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germans last weekend that “these next winter weeks will be the hardest phase of the pandemic” so far, with many doctors and medical staff working at their limits.

At a meeting of senior members of her centre-right CDU party, the German Chancellor said she wanted to bring forward crisis talks with regional leaders to “the coming week”, participants told AFP.

They quoted her as saying the virus could only be stopped with “significant additional measures”.

She also voiced concern about the coronavirus strain that recently emerged in Britain and is considered more contagious, saying people urgently need to reduce their social contacts.

Its health agency is concerned at too many people not adhering to this lockdown compared to the first, and has said stricter measures may be needed to get the numbers down. 

It’s worth noting that the case numbers being seen in Germany and France right now are at the levels that were seen in Ireland as Level 5 restrictions were being introduced in October. 

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As of yesterday, Germany has had 45,207 deaths and 2 million confirmed cases.

Italy

Covid-19 is sharing the headlines with a political crisis in Italy at present, as the ruling coalition is looking close to collapse over political infighting. 

It experienced a surge similar to other European countries in November and cases began to fall again sharply as restrictions persisted into December. 

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday that continued restrictions are needed amid a “general worsening” of the situation in Italy. 

Speranza warned that 12 of Italy’s 20 regions were at risk of tougher restrictions after a worsening of the Covid-19 situation, notably an increase in the number of people in intensive care.

“A new strong storm is brewing across Europe,” he noted, adding German Chancellor Angela Merkel “was right when she said that we are facing the toughest months of the pandemic”.

As of yesterday, Italy has had 80,848 deaths and 2.34 million confirmed cases.

Elsewhere

In other parts of Europe, it’s a similar story in most places that you look. 

Portugal had a similar November surge to other EU countries. But, unlike France and Germany, it has suffered another large spike in cases heading into the new year.

Last week, the Portuguese government warned of “enormous pressure” on the health service as its cases per capita now sit alongside that of the UK and yesterday the country was put into a fresh lockdown. 

The Netherlands is currently experiencing a drop in cases after a surge in both November and December. 

Prime Minister Mark Rutte extended that nation’s lockdown until 9 February earlier this week. 

Under the current restrictions, schools and non-essential businesses have closed. Rutte also said a curfew is being considered. 

Denmark currently leads the EU in vaccinations with 2.2% of its population receiving their first jab since the programme started on 27 December. Ireland, meanwhile, has vaccinated 1.58% of its population so far. 

Concerns are also rising in Denmark about the British variant of the novel coronavirus, reported to be more contagious.

So far more than 200 cases have been detected in the country.

“With the new variant, it’s a race between its spread and the need to vaccinate,” said epidemiologist Simonsen.

In mainland Denmark, excluding Greenland and the Faroe Islands, 183,801 cases of Covid-19 and 1,623 deaths have been reported.

The only country seeing new daily case numbers like Ireland at present is the Czech Republic. The central European nation has had a post-Christmas surge that has seen it match a similar spike in October.

On 10 January, Ireland recorded 1,322 new cases per million population. On the same day in the Czech Republic, 1,209 new cases per million was reported. 

It was until 27 December that stricter lockdown measures were introduced in the Czech Republic.

It’s health minister said this week: “At any rate, we cannot be considering any relaxation [of restrictions].”

The situation is the same in Ireland where it may likely be months rather than weeks until restrictions significantly ease.

However, cases have fallen from their peak, the number of contacts each person has has also fallen since Christmas and the number of people getting vaccinated here provides some welcome news in an otherwise grim situation. 

With reporting from AFP

About the author:

Sean Murray

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