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'We're overwhelmed by a second wave': Here's what Europe's worst-hit countries are doing to try curb Covid-19

The WHO has said that Europe is again an “epicentre” for the disease.


THE SITUATION WITH Covid-19 continues to deteriorate in many parts of the world, but it is Europe that is bearing the brunt as it copes with a second wave of the disease.

The World Health Organization’s Dr Michael Ryan said earlier this week that the continent is again an “epicentre” for Covid-19 as, like Ireland, countries begin to introduce tougher new restrictions including lockdowns.

And, like Ireland, much of the commentary is on hospital capacity and the demands that will be placed on health services into the winter as case numbers rise significantly. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described the situation yesterday as “very serious” and suggested that “[national] exit strategies were partly too fast and measures were relaxed too soon” over the summer months. 

According to the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre, Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate stands at 299.0 following last night’s latest Covid-19 figures. Our deaths per 100,000 people – as per figures from the ECDC – is 1.12.


14-day incidence per 100,000 - 626.2

14-day deaths per 100,000 – 3.74

In the past two weeks alone, France has recorded over 419,000 new Covid-19 cases. That means that roughly one third of all coronavirus cases in France during the pandemic have come in the past fourteen days.

The number of daily deaths in France has not eclipsed the daily deaths seen in April, but has also risen significantly in recent weeks. 

Efforts to limit the spread of the virus – such as a 9pm curfew – have been ineffective at preventing the huge surge with almost half of the country’s intensive care beds now full.

The deteriorating situation has surpassed “even the most pessimistic projections”, President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday as he announced a new lockdown for the country.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Starting tonight, bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses will be forced to close, and written statements will be required for people to leave their homes.

Factories and farms will also be allowed to operate, and some public services will function, to limit the economic damage that would come from shutting down the country completely.

And, in an important difference from the first lockdown, schools will remain open. 

“As elsewhere in Europe, we are overwhelmed by a second wave that will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first,” Macron said yesterday.

“If we did nothing… within a few months we would have at least 400,000 additional deaths,” he said.

Already more than 3,000 intensive care patients are forcing hospitals to scramble for beds, and “no matter what we do, nearly 9,000 people will be in intensive care by mid-November,” he warned.

The lockdown is set to last until 1 December – like in Ireland – but the French President added a hopeful caveat in his announcement yesterday.

“If in two weeks, we have the situation under better control, we will be able to re-evaluate things and hopefully open some businesses, in particular for the Christmas holiday,” he said.

“I hope we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with family,” he said.


14-day incidence per 100,000 - 148.18

14-day deaths per 100,000 – 0.57

In the early heights of the pandemic, the number of daily cases in Germany did not exceed 10,000. Now, it regularly exceeds this number.

The tally hit a new 24-hour record of 14,964 yesterday, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control. The number of new cases had doubled yesterday from a week ago, while the number of people in intensive care has also doubled in the last 10 days.

2.56309555 German chancellor Angela Merkel Source: PA Images

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in Germany was just under 400 in early October, but was at 1,570 by yesterday.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is working from home after testing positive for the virus, said urgent action was required.

“If we wait until the intensive care beds are full, then it will be too late,” he told regional broadcaster Suedwestrundfunk. 

And Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken action, yesterday announcing a new round of shutdowns for the cultural and leisure as well as food and drink sectors.

The tough restrictions to come into force from Monday 2 November to the end of the month will limit contact outdoors to people from two households.

Schools, daycare centres and shops will remain open, but hotel stays will be allowed only for “necessary and expressedly non-tourism purposes”.

Bars, cafes and restaurants must shut, although takeaways and delivery services can continue.

Professional sports, including Bundesliga football, have also been pushed back behind closed doors.

Theatres, operas and cinemas will also have to scrap their shows during what is traditionally their busiest season.

Merkel acknowledged that the measures are “strict and arduous” but she urged a “national effort”.

At the the current rate of new infections, “we will reach the limits of the health system,” she warned.


14-day incidence per 100,000 - 1,208.26

14-day deaths per 100,000 – 6.22

The situation has gotten very bad, very quickly in Belgium.

Belgium, with 11.5 million inhabitants, is now the country with the most cases per capita in the world – if microstates such as Andorra are excluded.

The number of people admitted to hospital with the coronavirus has all but matched the level in the first wave of the epidemic in spring, the latest figures have shown.

The situation has gotten so bad in Belgium that Covid-positive doctors have been asked to keep working. Over one in five people tested are confirmed to have Covid-19.

The government’s Covid-19 spokesperson said earlier this week that the case numbers may actually decrease – even though deaths and hospitalisations are set to increase – “since we no longer test asymptomatic people”. 

Spokesperson Yves Van Laethem said on Monday: “Within 4 days, by the end of the week, we should pass the milestone of 1,000 patients in intensive care. Without changing the curve of our behaviour, we should reach 2,000 patients in intensive care in two weeks, i.e. our maximum capacity.”

The country has already reimposed a partial lockdown: Bars and restaurants have been closed since 19 October, there are regional overnight curfews and gatherings of more than four people are banned.

The government will meet again tomorrow, and Prime Minister Alexander de Croo could announce more stringent measures after talking to health experts.

Czech Republic

14-day incidence per 100,000 - 1,208.26

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14-day deaths per 100,000 – 6.22

The situation in Czech Republic has seen it among the worst-affected countries across the European Union for a number of weeks.

The country of 10.7 million people has registered more than 260,000 cases and over 2,300 deaths since the March outbreak.

Its health minister Roman Prymula – who is now out of a job after being caught violating restrictions – said on Monday that they “are getting close to levels that threaten the capacity of the Czech health system”. 

He also said that recent restrictions have had a “negligible impact”, as theatres, museums and galleries were shut at the start of the month and mandatory wearing of face masks indoors was implemented.

czech-republic-prague-covid-19-restrictions An empty Old Town Square in Prague Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

When announcing new measures last week, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said: “What happened was somehow predicted but nobody expected its scope… we have no time to wait.”

He also grimly predicted that the country’s system would “collapse” between 7-11 November if no action was taken. 

An overnight curfew is in effect in the country and the army has built a reserve field hospital with 500 beds. Bars and restaurants are shut, while schools are limited to distance learning. 

A decision is expected next week on whether to extend these lockdown measures.


14-day incidence per 100,000 - 668.89

14-day deaths per 100,000 – 2.77

Two weeks ago, the Netherlands introduced a partial lockdown to try to stem a sharp rise in cases, including the closure of bars, cafes and restaurants. It has not managed to stem the rise in infections.

Daily cases have now begun to eclipse 10,000 and the Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday it was unlikely that these current restrictions would be lifted before December.

pm-rutte-orders-partial-lockdown-the-hague Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Source: Utrecht Robin/ABACA/PA Images

Rutte has said, however, it may be too early to gauge whether the partial lockdown has worked. 

But he has left the door open for another fuller lockdown, with a press conference due next Tuesday.

“The numbers remain high and have to go down,” he said.


Poland is faring particularly badly in recent weeks, with record new cases and tougher measures introduced last weekend including the shutting of cafes and restaurants, and online learning for most students.

In Portugal, a local lockdown is in place in the northern region set to last until 2 November. The government has also voted to make masks compulsory in outdoor spaces in the country while alcohol cannot be sold after 8pm. 

Until the new year, sales of alcohol are also restricted in Denmark after 10pm while bars, restaurants and clubs must close by the same time. 

In Greece, a night-time curfew is in place in the capital Athens and the surrounding areas. Masks must be worn outdoors and in public indoor settings.

Most countries in Europe, even those faring better than others such as Norway are introducing tighter restrictions. 

In Sweden, the country that opted not to go into lockdown in the spring is sticking to its guns – mostly.

virus-outbreak-sweden Uppsala in Sweden is the first region in the country to be hit with local restrictions. Source: Claudio Bresciani/TT

What it is doing is introducing targeted measures aimed at curbing the spread with residents in the Uppsala region told to avoid public transport and not meet people outside their household for a period of two weeks. People are also asked to avoid meetings and cultural events, while steering clear of indoor spaces where possible. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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