25th Mar 2023

'Difficult weeks' ahead as EU deaths and infections soar

  • Europe has reported more than 25 million cases, and 30 percent of global deaths (Photo:

National authorities have warned citizens about "difficult" weeks ahead, as more than a quarter of EU countries are seeing strained health systems - amid a blame-game over the slow rollout of the vaccine in some member states.

As of Monday (11 January), the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Lithuania have registered the highest infection rates in Europe - triggering a reintroduction or extension of emergency measures, aimed at reducing the transmission totals.

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Ireland, for instance, reported more than 44,000 new infections over the last two weeks - almost a third of all confirmed cases since the first outbreak.

Europe, one of the worst-affected areas worldwide, recently reported more than 25 million cases and 30 percent of the global deaths.

Belgium surpassed a total of 20,000 deaths over the weekend, while Germany's tally hit 40,000 and the UK topped 80,000.

In her weekly video on Saturday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that "these next winter weeks are probably the most difficult phase of the pandemic," warning that the impact of socialising over the Christmas period still has to be reflected in the statistics.

Harder coronavirus restrictions entered into force on Monday since the lockdown rules introduced in December failed to notably reduce the number of infections.

Similarly, England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty told the BBC on Monday that the new variant of Covid-19, first detected in the UK, has put the National Health Service (NHS) under significant pressure.

"The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS," he said, warning that the UK's healthcare services could be overwhelmed within 21 days "without further action".

Last week, the Spanish government also warned citizens of the "difficult weeks ahead," urging people to limit social contacts and reduce mobility.

"The data is bad. The incidence rate, the pressure on hospitals, the positivity rate of PCR tests and the number of deaths are rising. The evolution of the pandemic is worsening," Spain's health minister Salvador Illa said last Friday.

Nearly all Spain's 17 regions have introduced new restrictions and confinements to reduce the number of infections.

France has also imposed an earlier curfew in 15 regional departments to reduce the spread of the virus as the country recorded more than 20,000 new cases of coronavirus after the Christmas holidays.

EU solidarity at risk - again?

Meanwhile, the European Commission is demanding member states to explain how they are sticking to the bloc's vaccine strategy - in a bid to counter a wave of criticism over Europe's slow rollout of vaccines.

"The president [of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen] has asked [health] commissioner [Stella] Kyriakides to send a letter to all health ministers asking them to provide us with all the necessary transparency in the way in which they are complying with the provisions of our vaccine strategy in terms of contacts, or lack of contacts rather, with those pharmaceutical companies that we have been or are negotiating with," a commission spokesperson said on Monday.

"This letter is currently being drafted, and will be sent as soon as it is ready," he added.

The move comes after Germany secured 30 million additional vaccine doses for its own citizens under a bilateral agreement with BioNTech - a decision which seems to put at risk the principle of solidarity between European countries.

The president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, has also said that his country is in talks with Israel for a supplementary number of vaccines under a separate deal, arguing that EU's supplies are "not enough for rapid and mass vaccinations".

The commission, on behalf of member states, sealed deals with Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, BioNTech/Pfizer and CureVac for up to 2.3 billion vaccine doses.

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The European Medicines Agency has authorised the use of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US company Moderna - while the EU is involved in a blame-game over a sluggish vaccine rollout across member states.

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