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Here's how Europe is coping with Covid's fourth wave amid weeks of escalating cases

Increasing restrictions and measures targeting the unvaccinated are proliferating on the continent.

Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers at in Vienna, Austria, this week.
Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers at in Vienna, Austria, this week.
Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner via Alamy

THE COVID-19 SITUATION is continuing to deteriorate across Europe with several countries escalating their restrictions as record-breaking numbers of cases are recorded.

The continent continues to be battered by the virus and the European Centres for Disease Control (ECDC) is forecasting that case numbers, deaths rates and hospital and intensive care admissions will all increase over the next two weeks. 

The disease watchdog said the number of cases recorded across the continent has now been climbing for six weeks in-a-row. Of the 29 countries monitored by the ECDC, 20 reported an uptick in the number of people in hospital with the virus in the past seven days. 

The agency’s weekly surveillance summary noted that countries with lower vaccination are the most severely affected. It did offer a crumb of comfort in noting that, while case rates are rapidly increasing, death rates are only increasing slowly. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said earlier this week that Europe was the only region in the world where Covid-related deaths increased last week, as a 5% uptick was recorded.

Austria

While the majority of countries are scrambling to avoid implementing strict stay-at-home measures, Austria broke ranks yesterday and became the first EU nation this winter to implement a full national lockdown

The lockdown will start on Monday and is set to last 20 days with an evaluation after 10 days. Covid-19 vaccination is also set to become mandatory from 1 February next year. 

“Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said while announcing the harsh new measures.

geschlossene-stande-beim-adventmarkt-im-linzer-volksgarten-der-beginn-des-marktes-wurde-wegen-der-hohen-corona-zahlen-verschoben-osterreicxh-europa Closed stalls at the Advent market in Linz's Volksgarten this week. Source: Wolfgang Spitzbart/Alamy

“Sustainably increasing the vaccination rate is the only way to get out of this vicious circle,” he said. The Chancellor also blamed those refusing to be vaccinated for an “attack on the health system”.

The country of 8.9 million has recorded more than one million infections and over 11,525 Covid deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Germany

Neighbouring Germany has seen record numbers of infections several days this week. Health Minister Jens Spahn framed the situation as “a national emergency that requires a combined national effort”.

Yesterday, the state of Bavaria took the step of cancelling all of its Christmas markets amid the surge. 

“The situation is very, very serious and difficult,” state premier Markus Soeder said, while also announcing a shutdown of clubs, bars and night service at restaurants to tame the fourth wave of the outbreak.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Thursday to shut the unvaccinated out of restaurants, sporting events and cultural shows after new cases soared to an all-time daily high of more than 65,000.

However Lothar Wieler – the director of Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute – told reporters yesterday that with the exponential rise in infection levels, the curbs would be insufficient to contain the latest surge.

There have been more than 5.2 million cases of Covid and nearly 99,000 coronavirus-related deaths in Germany since the pandemic began.

Unvaccinated

The Czech government followed politicians in Austria and Germany in introducing measures specifically targeting the unvaccinated, as it also notched up record numbers of infections.

Starting Monday, only the vaccinated and those who have had Covid in the last six months will be allowed access to bars, restaurants, hotels and other services. A negative Covid test result will no longer suffice.

weekly-map 14 day case notification rates across the EU as of 18 November. Source: ECDC

“We were inspired by the Bavarian model, whose basis is that only the vaccinated or those who have had Covid can have access to services, hotels, and gatherings,” outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech explained that “the main goal of these measures is to motivate people to get vaccinated.”

The virus has killed 31,769 people in the country of 10.7 million.

In Slovakia, Prime Minister Eduard Heger took a similar step announcing that a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” will start on Monday.

Both governments have introduced requirements that testing be carried out in workplaces.

Heger said some of the country’s hospitals have already been overwhelmed. Slovakia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the EU, with only Romania and Bulgaria having a lower percentage of their population inoculated.

The Netherlands also introduced a partial lockdown last weekend. While Belgium, Romania, Latvia, Norway and Ireland all ratcheted up measures in recent weeks.

Bulgaria’s vaccination rate came under fire yesterday as the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton warned that its extremely low inoculation rate was “a big risk” not just for the country but for the entire bloc.

With just 26% of its 6.9 million people fully vaccinated, Bulgaria has the lowest rate in the EU compared to an average of 68%. 

“If we do not do anything, we may have a Bulgarian variant because too many people have not been vaccinated and that could generate a new generation of variant, which will be very bad news for Bulgaria and for all of us,” Breton said. “Bulgaria is not an island,” he added.

Ireland’s vaccination rate stands at 76% of the total population and 77% have had at least one dose.

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With 93% of the adult population fully vaccinated Ireland has the highest level of vaccination coverage in the EU. A total of 94.4% of the adult population have had at least one dose.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid warned on Thursday that unvaccinated people continue to make up a disproportionate share of intensive care patients.

Of the 476 patients in ICU between 27 June and 13 November 13, 61% were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, Reid said at the health service’s weekly operational update.

“I state it because our clinical teams are asking us to state it very clearly,” he said.

Russia

Low vaccination rates are a problem in much of eastern Europe, notably in Russia which has by far the highest death toll in Europe.

Fewer than 40% of Russia’s nearly 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, even though the country approved a domestically developed vaccine months before most of the world.

Yesterday, Russian authorities reported a record number of coronavirus deaths for the third day in-a-row.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 1,254 virus deaths, up from 1,251 on Thursday and 1,247 on Wednesday. 

The daily new infections in recent weeks appear to have taken a downward trend but still remain higher than during previous surges of the virus.

In total, the coronavirus task force has reported over 9.2 million confirmed infections and more than 261,000 Covid-19 deaths.

Global picture  

The latest stats show that Covid-19 has now killed at least 5.1 million people since the outbreak emerged in China nearly two years ago.

The United States has suffered the most Covid-related deaths with 768,697, followed by Brazil with 612,144, India with 465,082, Mexico with 291,929 and Russia with 261,589.

Taking into account excess mortality linked to the coronavirus disease, the WHO estimates the overall death toll could be two to three times higher.

With reporting from AFP and Press Association

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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