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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 2 December 2021

Heading into winter, how are other countries in Europe coping with the latest Covid wave?

Germany reported its biggest daily increase in cases since the start of the pandemic yesterday.

"Dear customers, access only with mask FFP2" is written on a sign in front of a shop in Straubing, Germany.
Image: Armin Weigel/dpa/Alamy Live News

AS WINTER SWEEPS across the continent, Europe has once again found itself at the “epicentre” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Official data from countries across the continent shows that cases of Covid-19 have been rising for nearly six consecutive weeks and the number of new deaths per day has been rising for just over seven weeks. 

This amounts to approximately 250,000 cases and 3,600 deaths per day. 

The situation in Germany dramatically escalated yesterday as it reported its biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic.

The European Union’s most populous country registered almost 34,000 cases.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said this week that the country of 83 million was facing a “massive” pandemic among the unvaccinated and that intensive care beds were starting to run out in some regions.

“Corona is once again raging with full force, the fourth wave is hitting us hard,” the top-selling Bild newspaper wrote.

Despite vaccines being widely available, just 66.9% of the German population is fully inoculated against the disease, according to official figures.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has called Germany’s coronavirus trend “very worrying” and signalled that she is in favour of tougher curbs targeting the unvaccinated.

Health Minister Spahn too has called for stricter measures, including more thorough checks at venues and events where people need to show proof of vaccination, recovery from Covid or a recent negative test before entering.

He has also urged all vaccinated Germans to get booster shots after six months.

Under Germany’s federal system, regional states have significant powers to decide their own Covid approach, at times leading to a confusing patchwork of regulations.

The health ministers of all 16 states are holding crisis talks yesterday and tomorrow to discuss the next steps.

The states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Saxony and Bavaria have already agreed or introduced harsher restrictions, including rules excluding the unvaccinated from bars or nightclubs.

Another sign that the virus is ramping is found in France where health authorities reported 10,050 new cases yesterday. 

It was the first time the tally had surpassed 10,000 in the country of 67 million in two months.

The increase has prompted the government to make face masks compulsory again for French school children in 39 regional departments where the virus is widespread.

The government in the Netherlands also announced plans to re-impose some restrictions this week, including the wearing of face masks.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the use of a “corona pass” system – which shows proof of a Covid-19 vaccination or recent negative test – will be broadened to public places including museums, gyms and outdoor terraces.

map-1 The 14-day notification rate, testing rate and test positivity across Europe.

They follow a range of countries including – Belgium, Latvia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – which ratcheted up restrictions last week.

The measures failed to stem the tide in Latvia and the Baltic nation has now declared a three-month state of emergency.

The number of daily infections is now well over 1,000 in the country of 1.9 million people, overtaking the peak infection rate seen during the pandemic earlier this year.

Masks are now obligatory in all buildings accessible by the general public and anyone employed in government must have a vaccine by 15 November at the latest.

Unvaccinated people will only be allowed to shop for food and other essential items in designated stores and only shops considered essential will be allowed to open at weekends.

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-riga-east-clinical-university-hospital-in Medical specialists treat a patient suffering from Covid-19 in a hospital in Riga, Latvia. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Only 48% of Latvians are fully vaccinated – the fourth-worst vaccination rate in the EU after Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.

Greece is also facing a spike in infections and deaths with a record 6,700 daily cases registered earlier this week.

As part of efforts to clamp down on the outbreak, the government introduced mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers and is imposing fresh restrictions on unvaccinated people.

The move has prompted protests from healthcare workers and anger from unions.

embedded263494938 The health workers are unhappy that vaccinations have been made mandatory for everyine in their profession. Source: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

The new rules for the unvaccinated mean that anyone without a certificate of vaccination or recent recovery from Covid-19 will need to display a negative PCR or rapid test, conducted at their own cost at a private facility, for access to a wide range of facilities, including banks, public services, shops, hair salons and entertainment venues.

Public and private sector employees will also have to take two tests per week, up from the current one, to enter their workplaces.

About 61% of Greece’s total population has been fully vaccinated, and people age 12 and over are eligible for shots.

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‘Epicentre of the pandemic’

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Europe director Hans Kluge did not mince his words when analysing the deteriorating situation on the continent. 

“We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence. Europe is back at the epicentre of the pandemic, where we were one year ago,” he said.

Today every single country in Europe and Central Asia is facing a real threat of Covid-19 resurgence or already fighting it.

Kluge warned that according to “one reliable projection” the current trajectory would mean “another half a million Covid-19 deaths” by February.

The WHO’s Europe region – which spans 53 countries and territories and includes several nations in Central Asia – has now recorded 78 million cases since Covid-19 first emerged in China in late 2019.

The cumulative figure exceeds that of south east Asia, the eastern Mediterranean region, the Western Pacific, and Africa combined, the organisation said.

The “current pace of transmission” across the European region “is of grave concern”, Kluge said.

The WHO blamed the spike in cases on a combination of insufficient vaccination rates and a relaxation of preventative measures like mask-wearing and social distancing.

Kluge added that hospital admission rates are higher in countries where fewer people are vaccinated.

As countries in western Europe rack up record breaking case numbers, many countries in eastern Europe, with lower vaccination coverage, are struggling with high numbers of Covid deaths.

Over the past seven days, Russia – a country with strong vaccine hesitancy – has led the rise with 8,162 deaths, followed by Ukraine with 3,819 deaths and Romania with 3,100 deaths.

Health officials in Georgia have raised concerns over the slow pace of the country’s vaccine roll-out, after some 17,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab had to be destroyed because they expired.

The Black Sea nation is in the midst of a devastating new wave of the pandemic despite vaccines being widely available.

Globally, the virus has killed more than five million people, while the overall caseload has topped 248 million.

The WHO estimates however that the pandemic’s real toll could be two to three times higher than official records, due to the excess mortality that is directly and indirectly linked to Covid-19.

With reporting from AFP and Press Association

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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