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Spiking cases and fresh restrictions hit Europe as continent enters second Covid winter

Europe now accounts for 55% of all new cases globally and deaths are on the rise.

A board to remind customers to show their Covid Safe Ticket outside a bar in Brussels yesterday.
A board to remind customers to show their Covid Safe Ticket outside a bar in Brussels yesterday.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE NUMBER OF Covid-19 infections – and the death toll from the disease – is rising around Europe, leading many countries to reintroduce restrictions, as the continent enters its second winter battling the coronavirus.

In western Europe, numerous nations are recording case numbers that haven’t been seen for several months, while in the east of the continent many countries, with lower vaccine coverage, are struggling with spiralling death rates.

Last week, Latvia became the first European country to reimpose tough restrictions as the Baltic country struggles with a spike in cases amid low vaccination uptake.

The government closed schools, restaurants and entertainment venues for a month and implemented a nighttime curfew.

When the new lockdown was implemented, only 57% of Latvia’s 1.9 million population were fully vaccinated, well below the EU average of 75%. 

Romania and the Czech Republic imposed tougher restrictions on Monday, while in Slovakia tougher measures were expanded to more regions.

Bulgaria hit a record high number of cases in the past 24-hours as the European Union’s least vaccinated country recorded 6,813 fresh infections among its population of 6.9 million.

Police in the Balkan nation will start imposing fines on people who break restrictions from Monday.

In neighbouring Romania – which has the second lowest vaccination rate in the EU – authorities last week announced that 574 people had died from Covid-19. It was the country’s highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic.

The government ordered schools to close for two weeks, a night curfew was reintroduced and health passes were made mandatory for entry to most public venues.

“We are in a disaster situation,” deputy Interior Minister Raed Arafat said.

We have seen other countries go through this when there wasn’t a weapon available, namely the vaccine.

“We are in this situation while having the vaccine, because the majority of us refused to get inoculated. This situation could have been avoided,” he added.

Closer to home, on Tuesday the Belgian government reimposed some pandemic restrictions that it only relaxed a few weeks ago and expanded a nationwide use of its Covid-19 pass, known as the Covid Safe Ticket.

The measures included extending mandatory mask-wearing in public places and for staff at bars, restaurants and fitness clubs.

Daily infections in the nation of 11 million increased 75% to reach 5,299 cases over the past week. Hospital admissions have increased 69% to reach 102 daily cases.

Deaths have increased slightly, with an average of 13 a day.

The UK reported 263 deaths on Tuesday, its highest daily total since March. The number of patients in hospital with Covid also climbed to its highest level for more than seven months.

A total of 8,693 patients were in hospital on Monday. This is up 11% from the previous week, and is the highest since 9,009 patients were recorded on 9 March.

The figures are ten times higher than they were in May. However, they are still well below those seen at the peak of the second wave of pandemic.

A similar situation prevails in Ireland, where 1,631 new cases were reported yesterday. The latest stats show that there were 503 Covid-19 patients in hospital yesterday, of which 101 were in intensive care units.

In late January, the worst point of the pandemic in Ireland, over 2,000 patients were in hospital with the disease and more than 200 people were in ICU.

Ireland’s record daily case total was also recorded at this time when 8,248 new cases were recorded on a single day.

It emerged yesterday that Ireland remains top of Bloomberg’s ‘Covid Resilience Ranking’ for the second month running.

The ranking measures how well countries are placed to deal with reopening. It is dominated by European nations along with the United Arab Emirates and Chile.

Spain comes in second place while the UK is 25th and the US is 26th. Romania was the lowest placed European nation, ranking 49 out of the 53 countries that were measured. Last place was taken by the Philippines.

Germany’s seven-day coronavirus incidence rate reached 100 infections per 100,000 people on Saturday for the first time since May, following a surge in cases in recent weeks.

The milestone comes a day after the German health ministry warned that “we are seeing an escalation of the situation”.

Poland and the Netherlands have also warned that tighter restrictions are being considered.

Deaths

While several countries in western Europe are experiencing higher case numbers, deaths and hospitalisations have increased far less severely compared to countries in eastern Europe.

An AFP tally released this week found that Romania, Russia and Ukraine are registering the highest fatalities on the continent.

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virus-outbreak-romania Patients in a crowded Covid-19 isolation room at the University Emergency Hospital in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday. Source: Andreea Alexandru

About 1,672,000 new cases have been registered on the continent over the past week, an average of about 239,000 per day.

That was an increase of 18% on the previous week, according to data compiled by the news agency AFP, compiled from official sources from 52 countries and territories in the region.

The increase in cases was a 60% jump from August and September. In the region, 43 countries saw an increase in new infections over the past week, with only six countries clocking a drop.

Excluding microstates, Czech Republic saw the biggest increase in new infections, along with Hungary and Poland.

When per capita infection rates are taken into account, Latvia, Estonia and Georgia were hardest hit.

The current numbers remain below the daily record for the region, which registered an average of 284,000 cases per day between 2 November and 8 November, 2020.

But Europe now accounts for 55% of all new cases globally.

Deaths are also on the rise.

AFP data showed an average of 3,120 daily deaths on the continent in the previous seven days, up 16% from last week.

It’s the first time deaths in the region have exceeded 3,000 daily fatalities since May.

However, the current numbers are still far from the record of an average of 5,735 deaths every day from 14 to 20 January this year.

More than a third of the deaths recorded in Europe are currently in Russia, which reported 1,051 deaths on average every day, followed by Ukraine (485) and Romania (420).

With reporting from AFP and Press Association

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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