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How does Ireland compare? How other European countries are handling a surge in Covid-19 cases

Case numbers in some European countries have soared in recent weeks.

People on the steps of La Grande Arche in France last month.
People on the steps of La Grande Arche in France last month.
Image: Fourmy Mario/ABACA

OVER THE PAST several weeks, Ireland and other European countries have seen a considerable increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths compared to previous months. 

Last week, the Irish government rejected advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to enter the country into strict Level 5 lockdown restrictions. 

The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ on 5 October that this ‘circuit breaker’ of a short, sharp bid to stop the transmission of the coronavirus in its tracks had not been tried elsewhere in Europe. 

However, in the week since, several European countries have announced additional measures for a period of a few weeks in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus – including a strict curfew in nine French cities announced last night by president Emmanuel Macron.  

Let’s take a look at some of these countries, and determine how they decided to impose their Covid-19 restrictions. 

Spain 

bars-and-restaurants-close-due-to-covid-19-crisis-in-barcelona-spain-14-oct-2020 An already near-empty restaurant in Barcelona before further restrictions take hold in the Catalonia region of Spain. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Spain has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases within the EU with nearly 900,000 cases since the start of the pandemic.  

Bars and restaurants in the region of Catalonia will close from tonight in an attempt to slow the virus spread, the regional government has announced. 

The measures will remain in place for 15 days.

Although restrictions were eased in Spain after the outbreak was brought under control earlier this year, the number of infections has once again risen sharply in recent days.

In Madrid, the Spanish daily newspaper El País reported yesterday about ongoing tensions between the central government and the Madrid regional administration.

Madrid’s regional leaders were locked in a political standoff with the central government over imposition of a partial lockdown in the capital and eight surrounding towns to slow the rampant spread of cases. 

The restrictions, under which some 4.5 million people cannot leave the city limits and bars and restaurants must observe an 11pm curfew, initially came into force on 2 October.

They were briefly suspended by the courts, prompting the central government to step in and override regional opposition. 

A State of Emergency was imposed in Madrid last Friday by the government to enforce these measures in and around the Spanish capital.

Madrid’s rightwing authorities have opposed the partial lockdown on grounds it will cause huge damage to the region’s economy.

The Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso claimed that the central government “want to destroy our economy and put the brakes on our recovery”, El País reported. 

In response to these kinds of accusations, the Health Minister Salvador Illa said that “you cannot play with public health”.  

The 14-day infection rate in the region of Madrid yesterday stood at 490 cases per 100,000 people, compared with just 263 in Catalonia 

France 

france-risks-new-lockdowns-paris People on the steps of La Grande Arche in France last month. Source: Fourmy Mario/ABACA

To decide on implementing certain coronavirus restrictions, officials in France look at the 14-day incidence rate of the virus within the regions.

The positivity rate of the virus and the screening rate are also part of the considerations. 

Last night, based on these considerations, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that nine cities, including Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse, would be imposing a strict curfew. Eighteen million people live in the nine cities. 

Residents of the cities are not allowed to be outdoors between 9pm and 6am, except for essential reasons, beginning this Saturday and lasting for at least four weeks. 

The measure is designed to stop people visiting restaurants, pubs and private homes in the late evening and night. 

“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” Macron said in a televised address. 

“We won’t be leaving the restaurant after 9pm,” he said. “We won’t be partying with friends because we know that that’s where the contamination risk is highest.”

He also reinstated the state of health emergency for the country, which had ended three months ago. 

Patients with Covid-19 occupy a third of intensive care units nationwide right now. 

The country has had 798,000 confirmed cases and almost 33,000 deaths. 

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said recently that a “solidarity fund” to protect jobs and businesses will be expanded to include some 75,000 companies suffering the secondary effects of limitations on tourism, culture and sporting activities – such as car rental companies, florists and travel insurance.

“We have to learn to live with the virus. It is here. It will not disappear overnight,” Le Maire said.

“We need to protect ourselves… but we also have to continue working, producing, protecting our jobs, preparing the economy of the France of tomorrow.”

Santé Publique France (the government public health agency) issues regular situation updates on the virus. On Tuesday, it said the virus was continuing to circulate at a high level in mainland France.  

“The number of confirmed cases, the positive rates of samples, especially in people with symptoms, are increasing,” the agency said. 

It said the number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions is increasing and the number of clusters remains high and is “certainly” underestimated. 

The Netherlands 

new-restrictions-to-soften-second-wave-of-covid-netherlands Police near a restaurant in The Hague, the Netherlands on Tuesday. Source: Utrecht Robin/ABACA

The Netherlands has imposed a partial lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. All bars, cafes and restaurants have been closed and face coverings are mandatory in all indoor spaces for people aged over 13. 

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the nation needed to move a step closer to a full lockdown because few other countries in Europe have experienced such a surge in cases as the Netherlands.

In the week ending Tuesday, the new cases stood at 43,903 in the nation of 17.3 million people. This represents a 60% increase on the figures for the week prior.  

The Amsterdam and Rotterdam regions are the current hotbeds of the virus in the Netherlands.

The sale of alcohol and cannabis will also be banned after 8pm in a bid to reduce the social contacts that have led to the rise in Covid-19 cases, Rutte said. 

The measures took effect yesterday evening and will remain in place for an initial period of two weeks, after which the government will review whether the spread of the virus has been halted.

After long refusing to make the wearing of masks compulsory, Rutte finally ordered that non-medical face coverings must also be worn in all indoor spaces by people aged over 13.

“We are going into a partial lockdown. It hurts but it’s the only way, we have to be stricter,” Rutte said. 

“If we do all of this, we can quickly return to a more normal life.”

The Dutch government for months opted for what Rutte called an “intelligent lockdown” policy that was far more relaxed than a lot of other countries. 

However, it has scrambled to control the second wave of the disease.  

Several regions in the Netherlands have seven-day incidence rates above 300 per 100,000 people, with the Amsterdam-Amstelland area standing at a rate of 410 infections per 100,000 people according to a Ministry of Health report on Tuesday. 

Each week, health officials examine whether the situation with the virus is developing positively or negatively.

Then, the government and other official  groups assess the situation together. The Minister of Health determines the risk level at which a region is located. 

There are four levels within the country and the level is determined by the situation in a region, that of the surrounding regions and the situation in the rest of the country based on information about the virus spread. 

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Italy

italy-rome-conte-covid-19-new-restrictions Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wearing a face mask speaking during a press conference this week. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

In Italy, fears are growing that the country is in its second coronavirus wave.

The country, which was once the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, has recorded thousands of new infections each day in recent weeks. 

Lazio, the region which houses the capital city of Rome, has been performing particularly badly, along with Campania in the south and Lombardy in the north, where the pandemic broke out in Italy back in February.

The country imposed new, tougher rules earlier this week including an end to parties, amateur football matches and snacking at bars at night.

It is mandatory to keep at least one-metre apart from others and it is also mandatory to wear a face covering in closed spaces accessible to the public and in outdoor spaces in most circumstances. 

The Italian Association of Hospital Anaesthesiologists said last Friday that hospitals in the south, where infrastructure is weaker, were not ready for an escalating crisis, despite efforts made to boost beds and staff numbers.

Campania’s regional president Vincenzo De Luca said he thought “we’ve reached the point where dramatic decisions need to be taken”.

He said he could not rule out a new lockdown of the region.

Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia said last Friday that if the upward trend continued, movement of people between regions may be temporarily banned.

“A rise in the number of contagions was predictable. Intensive care units have been reinforced,” he said.

“However, I cannot rule out limits on movements. Nothing can be ruled out at the moment,” he said. 

With reporting by AFP and Press Association 

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