Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

Europe is back in (partial) lockdown

  • 'Where there has been political division at the national level [and] blatant disrespect for science, confusion has spread and cases and deaths have mounted,' WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned this week (Photo: Catherine Thackstone)

The burden on healthcare systems all across the bloc, as a result of the surge of coronavirus infections, is triggering new nationwide lockdowns and restrictive measures in nearly all EU member states.

Belgium has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections per capita in the EU - followed by the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Slovenia, the Netherlands and France, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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Earlier this month, Belgian health officials warned that the country might run out of intensive care beds by mid-November, while the country keeps recording about 14,000 cases daily.

Given the record number of infections and hospitalisations, experts are calling for a second Belgian lockdown ahead of a new consultative committee meeting on the pandemic taking place on Friday (29 October).

"The situation is critical in healthcare. Like in our neighbouring countries, it is time for us to hit the emergency brake: lockdown," tweeted Marc Van Ranst, a virologist who is advising the Belgian government.

New round of lockdowns

With almost half of all intensive care beds at French hospitals being occupied by Covid-19 patients, president Emmanuel Macron introduced a four-week long second lockdown on Wednesday.

Macron urged a collective effort from citizens, warning that the second wave is "likely to be harder and more deadly than the first".

From Friday, French citizens will not be able to leave their homes unless they are going to work, buy essential goods or seek medical attention. Private and public events are not allowed, and university classes will be completely online.

A few hours earlier, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced new restrictions starting on Monday (2 November), comprising the closure of restaurants, bars and some shops, as well as sporting, cultural and recreative facilities.

Other member states, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, previously introduced similar measures to control the number of infections.

Overwhelmed health service fears

Merkel told the Bundestag on Thursday that the new restrictions to reduce social contact were "necessary and proportionate" since that the current rate of infection would overwhelm the healthcare systems within a few weeks.

This week, the Netherlands has started to sent Covid-19 patients to Germany to lower the strain on their health care systems, but Berlin is also in talks to take in people from the Czech Republic.

The Czech army recently placed its first Covid-19 field hospital in Prague with 500 beds, since the country is recording about new 15,000 cases daily.

Like in the spring, restaurants, bars, schools and most non-essential shops in the Czech Republic have closed.

Meanwhile, most Spanish regions have closed their borders for non-essential travel under the six-months state of alarm that was announced last week by the central government.

There is no home confinement, bars and restaurants remain open, but social gatherings are restricted to six people.

Italy, one of the most affected countries during the first wave, has also introduced new measures to curb the number of infections, including the closure of theatres and swimming pools as well as bars and restaurants after 6PM.

As the daily tally of new coronavirus cases hit a new record on Thursday, the Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz advanced that tighter restrictions will be unveiled on Saturday.

There are few places not seeing a sharp surge in coronavirus infections, mostly the Scandinavian and Baltic countries as well as Greece and Norway.

Nevertheless, the northern and northwestern Greek regions of Serres and Ioannina went officially under lockdown on Thursday, after cases have been rising rapidly since early October.

ECB intervention

The president of European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, pledged on Thursday to take action in December to counter the negative impact of the second wave on the economy.

"An ambitious coordinated fiscal stance remains critical," Lagarde said, adding that cash from the EU's €750bn recovery fund should be made available to member states with no delay.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that nearly half (46 percent) of all new cases worldwide reported this week were recorded in the European region - including Russia, Turkey, Israel and Central Asia.

The continent has seen a 33-percent increase in the number of new cases compared to the previous week, reporting over 1.3 million new cases this past week.

However, the proportion of deaths remains relatively low compared to the first wave.

"When leaders act quickly and deliberately, the virus can be suppressed. But, where there has been political division at the national level [and] blatant disrespect for science and health professionals, confusion has spread and cases and deaths have mounted," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week at a media briefing from Geneva.

"A pandemic is not a political football. Wishful thinking or deliberate diversion will not prevent transmissions or save lives," he added, urging to stop "the politicisation" of the pandemic.

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