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People queue at a vaccination clinic in Munich, Germany, this week.
People queue at a vaccination clinic in Munich, Germany, this week.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Limited lockdowns and restrictions on unvaccinated: How Europe is dealing with Covid wave

New measures are on the cards in several countries as cases continue to climb.
Nov 13th 2021, 6:30 AM 23,519 81

WITH EUROPE IN the grip of its second pandemic winter, countries are implementing a range of measures to tackle rocketing Covid cases, including partial lockdowns and restrictions aimed specifically at unvaccinated people.

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) said yesterday that 10 European Union member states face a Covid situation of “very high concern”.

In its latest weekly risk assessment, the EU’s diseases agency listed Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary,  Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia in its highest category of concern.

Ireland actually improved its rating this week, falling out of the worst category to be listed among 13 countries in the “high concern” group.

After weeks of cases climbing at an alarming rate, a tipping point was finally reached yesterday evening as the Netherlands announced a partial lockdown for three weeks.

As case numbers hit record levels, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets will have to shut at 8pm for the next three weeks from today.

Non-essential shops must shut at 6pm, households visits have been limited to four people and the government is advising work from home unless absolutely necessary.

Public events have been scrapped while football matches including the Netherlands’ home World Cup qualifier with Norway next week must be played behind closed doors.

However, schools will remain open and people will be allowed to leave their homes without restrictions.

The 14-day incidence rate in the country climbed by 102% in the last two weeks, reaching 762.5 per 100,000.

This is still below Ireland’s rate of 924.1 per 100,000, which jumped 57% in the last 14 days.

Hospitals in the Netherlands have warned they will not be able to make it through the winter under the current conditions.

The nation of 17 million people has reported 2.2 million cases and over 18,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.

Record-breaking numbers of cases are also being recorded in neighbouring Germany, with the country surpassing 50,000 daily infections for the first time on Thursday.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said the rise in infections was “dramatic” while Merkel’s likely successor Olaf Scholz said that new restrictions will likely be needed to “get through this winter”.

medical-specialists-treat-a-patient-suffering-from-the-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-at-the-intensive-care-unit-icu-of-toxicology-and-sepsis-clinic-of-the-the-riga-east-clinical-university-hospital A Covid patient receiving treatment at a hospital in Riga, Latvia. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Germany’s 14-day incidence rate stands at 406 per 100,000, a rise of 84% on the previous fortnight.

Hospitals in some regions are already overwhelmed, especially in the east of the country, which has started transferring patients to less affected regions.

Germany’s Covid surge has been blamed on a relatively low vaccination rate, with just over 67% of the population of some 83 million people fully inoculated.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country is facing a “massive pandemic of the unvaccinated” and has urged as many Germans as possible to get a booster vaccine.

“We must do everything needed to break the current trend,” Spahn said. “Otherwise the nation will experience a bitter December.”

Several of the worst-hit states, including Saxony, Bavaria, and Berlin, have introduced new restrictions on unvaccinated people at most indoor public venues.

The federal government and the leaders of the 16 states are meeting next week to discuss a wider rollout of measures.

There have been more than 4.9 million cases of Covid and over 97,000 coronavirus-related deaths in Germany since the pandemic began.

Austria also looks set to introduce measures specifically for the unvaccinated as case numbers hit record levels.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said this week that a lockdown for the unvaccinated is “probably unavoidable”, but he does not want to impose the measure on those who have received the jab.

National statistics show that about 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus disease.

This gives it the lowest vaccination rate of any western European country, except Liechtenstein (which has a population of less than 40,000).

Austria also has the highest 14-day incidence rate in western Europe. It climbed by 132% in the past two weeks to 1,050 per 100,000. 

The country of 8.9 million has recorded nearly 935,000 infections and over 11,600 Covid deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Czechia (194%), Hungary (180%), Poland (152%), Denmark (102%), Slovakia (102%) all joined Austria and the Netherlands in recording spikes of more than 100% in their 14-day incidence rates.  

notification rates 14 day case notification rates across the EU as of 11 November. Source: ECDC

Spain is the best performing country in Europe with a 14-day incidence rate of just 59.7 per 100,000 – an increase of 5%. Previously one of Europe’s hardest-hit nations, the Iberian country is coping well during the current Covid surge.

It has vaccinated 80% of its population, and while face masks are no longer mandatory outdoors, many people still wear them.

While infections have ticked up slightly recently, Rafael Bengoa, one of Spain’s leading public health experts, said that given the high vaccination rate, “the virus won’t be able to dominate us again”.

The UK, Latvia and Romania all recorded drops in their rates following significant spikes in recent months.

The latest data from the UK suggests it may have weathered the worst of the latest wave as it has just seen its biggest weekly drop in the number of new cases in 2021. Its 14-day incidence rate dropped by 17% to 758.5 per 100,000.

Average incidence figures from the ZOE COVID Study, which collects and analyses Covid test data in the UK, shows the number of daily symptomatic cases has dropped by 18% in the past week.

“This drop in cases is the largest weekly decline we’ve seen all year, and is being driven by a sustained fall in cases among children over the last two weeks,” Professor Tim Spector of ZOE said.

“However, cases are still high and, worryingly, we’re still seeing high death rates as Covid takes up to 8% of hospital beds,” Spector cautioned.

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The UK has racked up nearly 9.5 million cases of Covid and over 142,600 deaths since the pandemic began.

Latvia recorded a drop of 12%, however it still stands at over 1,500 per 100,000.

Last month, the Baltic nation became the first European country to reimpose tough restrictions as it struggled with a spike in cases amid low vaccination uptake.

The government closed schools, restaurants and entertainment venues for a month and implemented a night-time curfew. 

Belgium, Romania, Czechia and Slovakia also all ratcheted up restrictions in recent weeks.

chart-2 Source: Department of Health

Norway announced yesterday that it was reintroducing its coronavirus health pass amid a surge in cases.

Last week, the Scandinavian country reintroduced quarantine measures for unvaccinated people arriving from several countries including Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

Given its high vaccination rate, Ireland is performing poorly compared to many of its European counterparts. It has the second highest 14-day incidence rate in western Europe. 

There are rumblings of potential new restrictions on the horizon, as the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has recommended the extension of the Covid vaccine passes to sectors outside the hospitality industry. It also said that the government should advise more home-working. 

Ireland has recorded over 480,000 cases and 5,500 deaths over the course of the pandemic.  

Thanks largely to vaccination, hospitals in western Europe are not under the same pressure they were earlier in the pandemic, but many are still straining to handle rising numbers of Covid patients while also attempting to clear backlogs of tests and surgeries with exhausted or sick staff.

Even the countries experiencing the most serious outbreaks in the region recorded far fewer deaths per person over the past four weeks than the United States did, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

While countries in western Europe are grappling with rising case numbers, many countries in eastern Europe, with lower vaccination coverage, have sustained several weeks of high numbers of Covid deaths.

This week Russia recorded the most new deaths in the world with 1,235. The United States came in second place with 815 and Ukraine was third with 750.

The coronavirus reached another grim milestone yesterday as a tally of official death tolls noted that more than five million people have been killed by the disease.

The US has suffered the most Covid-related deaths with 759,677, followed by Brazil with 610,224, India with 462,690, Mexico with 290,630 and Russia with 252,926. Taking into account excess mortality linked to Covid-19, the WHO estimates the overall death toll could be two to three times higher.

With reporting from AFP and Press Association

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Céimin Burke


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