Europe is facing its worst wave of contagion from the pandemic. Diagnosed cases reach a ceiling although mortality is far, thanks to vaccination, from that of the first wave. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned this Saturday that half a million more people could die from the coronavirus in the next four months if Europe does not take measures to stop the increase in incidence, which in some countries it is already at rates similar to those of the worst moments of the pandemic. The director of the organization for the region, Hans Kluge, has been concerned about the increase in cases in an interview with the BBC, in which he recalled that “COVID-19 is once again the number one cause of mortality” on the continent.
The trend continues to rise in practically the entire continent. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the corridor that goes from Ukraine to Montenegro are saved, where the number of new infections has decreased compared to the previous week, but which still maintain very high incidence rates: from 1,230 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days recorded in Estonia, up to 394 in Romania.
Where infections have risen the most compared to the previous week has been in Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. And, with them, the incidence rates, which have made many of these countries regain old restrictions or implement new measures. The main one has been that of Austria, which has become the first country to announce the mandatory vaccination by February 2022. With only 64% of the population vaccinated, the incidence on Friday exceeded 1,650 cases per 100,000 inhabitants , which has caused the authorities to confine the entire population as of Monday, after verifying that the restrictions in place for two weeks have not had the expected effect.
Compulsory vaccination is not the measure that WHO likes the most, which sees it as the “last resort”. Kluge insisted this weekend that other tools, such as the COVID passport, can still be used. It is the one that Germany will apply from next week. There, the incidence has been rising since October 31. That day, this indicator marked 271 cases and this Friday it was above 630. On Monday, the new health protection law will come into force, which includes measures such as the requirement of the vaccination card or a daily negative test to access to the workplace.
At the moment, the state of Saxony, in the east of the country, where the COVID figures are highest, has decreed the partial closure of public life since Monday and for three weeks. Cultural, sports and leisure activities, bars, pubs and discos will be closed. The Christmas markets and restaurants will remain open, with reduced hours, for people who have been vaccinated or who have passed the disease, as will the shops. Hotels and pensions will not be able to accommodate tourists. Unvaccinated people will not be able to go out on the street between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and can only hang out with a person outside their family nucleus. The authorities of Bavaria, one of the German Länder most affected by the covid, already announced this Friday the closure of non-essential public activity in those districts in which a weekly incidence level of 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants is exceeded.
COVID passport, telework or vaccinate all officials
Along the same lines, other countries such as the Czech Republic, with an incidence of more than 1,370 cases, Slovakia, over 1,550, and Hungary, which exceeds 1,000 cases, have communicated new restrictions for people who are not immunized. The Czech Republic will only allow people vaccinated or who have passed COVID-19 to access bars, restaurants or meetings from next Monday, and is considering reimposing all companies to test their employees. In Slovakia, the government has made it compulsory for unvaccinated people to telework and, if the company does not allow it, that these employees stop going to their job – and getting paid – until the epidemiological situation improves. In Hungary, the Executive has announced that it will oblige all civil servants to be vaccinated.
Portugal is studying tightening restrictions to combat the pandemic in the face of the advance of the fifth wave, with numbers of infections and hospitalized that have not been seen for more than two months. With the incidence on the verge of 200 cases, the Government met this Friday with experts and epidemiologists to analyze the situation in the country in order to prepare new measures, which will be consulted on Tuesday and Wednesday with the rest of the parties in Congress. Restrictions are expected, but not total confinements, as in the worst moments of the pandemic because, although the worsening is already noticeable in hospitals, severe cases are much lower than those of previous waves, as is the case with deaths.
In France, the Government has advanced that it is considering reimposing teleworking in view of the increase in the incidence, which this Friday stood at 224 cases. Although in the last week the cases have risen to 86,324, the situation is less worrying than in central Europe. Not in vain, in this country the COVID certificate was already implemented in July, which caused multiple protests, but also that the vaccination rate reached up to 90% of the target population.
In Belgium, teleworking is compulsory from this Saturday until December 13. If the epidemiological situation allows it, from that day on it will be possible to work in person three days a week. The idea is to limit the presence of workers in companies as much as possible and reduce the number of trips on public transport. It has also been decided to reinforce the use of masks. “The philosophy is to keep it open, but with reinforced security measures,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Wednesday. The incidence is currently 1,290 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Protests against the COVID passport
In the Netherlands, with an incidence of 1,159 cases, the Executive seeks parliamentary support to exclude the COVID pass, which currently allows access to restaurants, concerts, cultural events and sports facilities, to those who are not vaccinated even if they test negative. This measure would exclude 1.8 million citizens and has provoked the reaction of some people who have called protests in different cities through social networks. In Rotterdam, two people have been wounded by gunshot wounds and 51 have been arrested in the heavy disturbances that occurred the night before.
In Croatia there have also been protests this Saturday against the new restrictions. With an incidence of more than 1,800 cases, with more than 36,000 new infections in the last week, in line with the previous one, and with a rate of vaccinated with a complete schedule that does not reach 50%, hundreds of people have protested against the passport COVID from the European Union. The protests have been repeated tonight also in several cities in Italy and in Austria.
In Romania, the second EU country with the lowest rate of vaccinated, with only 36.4% with the full schedule, and the second also with the highest mortality, since October 25, unvaccinated people are prohibited from consuming in bars and restaurants and cannot leave their homes between ten at night and five in the morning the next day. In Bulgaria, which has the highest death rate from COVID-19 in the EU and which this weekend holds legislative and presidential elections, recourse to confinement has been ruled out.
Other countries have not yet announced new measures, but had already put some restrictions in place in recent weeks. This is the case of Greece, which since the beginning of the month requires a negative test to access the terraces of the premises, while only vaccinated people can enter the interior, and in September it had made the vaccination mandatory for health personnel and centers older. With almost 900 cases of incidence, infections this week have exceeded 45,500 cases, but remain stable compared to the previous one.
Sweden, Spain and Italy, with the lowest incidence
In Italy, the country that registers the third best incidence data, after Sweden and Spain, the COVID certificate was mandatory to be able to use any means of transport, from this Tuesday. Although the incidence has risen in recent days and the virus is already being noticed in hospitals, according to data from the Higher Institute of Health, which shows an ICU occupancy of 5.3%, almost one point more than the previous week, the Executive does not consider “for the moment” new restrictions. There the incidence was 166 cases this Friday, so the Minister of Regional Affairs explained that if the situation worsens, the proposal of some regional authorities to introduce more restrictions for the unvaccinated, 27% of the population, will be assessed.
In the Nordic countries the situation is uneven. Although the trend is upward throughout the area, the incidence marks notable different: of the 108 cases per 100,000 inhabitants of Sweden, the country with the best data in Europe; 718 from Denmark; passing through the 640 of Iceland; the 430 from Norway; and the 206 from Finland.
Sweden, which despite not having yet experienced this new wave is one of the Nordic countries most affected since the beginning of the pandemic, has already announced that it will introduce the COVID passport for public meetings and events of more than one hundred people indoors starting from December 1st. “The situation is stable and we have not seen the rise in other countries, but we cannot remain calm and hope for the best,” said the director of the Public Health Agency, Karin Tegmark.
In Norway, the authorities already reintroduced the restrictions last week, given the rise in infections, which in the last seven days have risen slightly compared to the previous week, and the increase in the incidence. Specifically: it allows municipalities with many infections to require a COVID passport, health personnel must undergo two week tests and wear a mask and a booster dose of the vaccine is offered to the entire population over 18 years of age. Denmark, which had boasted of being the first country without restrictions in September, already began to require the certificate to enter bars and restaurants on Friday, November 12, and suggested the possibility that companies can also start claiming it to work.