New lockdowns being considered
Aljazeera observes that Europe has become the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic again, prompting some governments to consider re-imposing unpopular lockdowns in the run-up to Christmas and stirring debate over whether vaccines alone are enough to tame COVID-19. As the trend deteriorates in Madeira – see previous post – there is talk of some restrictions being reimposed here.
Europe reported almost two million new COVID-19 infections last week, the largest weekly case count in the region since the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday. Just last week alone, the continent accounted for about two-thirds of the world’s 3.1 million new reported cases and more than half of all COVID-19 deaths globally, the WHO statistics showed.
The organisation observed that COVID-19 cases have been surging not only in countries with lower vaccination rates in Eastern Europe, but also in countries with some of the world’s highest vaccination rates in Western Europe.
Experts pointed out that the insufficient vaccine roll-out in parts of the region, waning immunity among groups vaccinated early, and relaxed social restrictions aimed to boost economies are likely to have contributed to the recurrence.
About 65% of the population of the European Economic Area (the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have received two doses, according to EU data, but the pace has slowed in recent months.
Take-up in southern European countries is about 80%, but hesitancy has hampered rollout in central and eastern Europe and Russia, leading to outbreaks that could overwhelm healthcare. Portugal is performing better than most other countries, with over 85% double-jabbed, whilst Madeira hopes to hit this mark very shortly.
Germany, France and the Netherlands are also experiencing a surge in infections, showing the challenge even for governments with high acceptance rates. Hospitalisations and deaths are much lower than a year ago and big variations by country in use of vaccines and boosters as well as measures like social distancing make it hard to draw conclusions for the whole region.
Covid complacency setting in
According to Aljazeera, a combination of low vaccine take-up in some parts, waning immunity among those inoculated early and complacency about masks and distancing as governments relaxed curbs over the summer are likely to blame, virologists and public health experts told Reuters. “If there’s one thing to learn from this it’s not to take your eye off the ball,” said Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School in the UK
The World Health Organization’s report for the week to November 7 showed that Europe, including Russia, was the only region to record a rise in cases, up 7%, while other areas reported declines or stable trends. Similarly, it reported a 10% increase in deaths, while other regions reported declines.
Governments and companies are worried the prolonged pandemic will derail a fragile economic recovery, and a slew of countries are taking measures to curb the spread. In the Netherlands, bars and restaurants will close early and sporting events will be held without audiences under a three-week partial lockdown that will be Western Europe’s first since the summer and that is expected to be announced on Friday evening.
Germany will reintroduce free COVID-19 tests from today, and a draft law could allow for measures such as compulsory face masks and social distancing in public spaces to continue to be enforced until next March.
Austria’s government is likely to decide on Sunday to impose a lockdown on people who are not vaccinated, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday.
Most EU countries are deploying extra shots to the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, but expanding vaccination to more of the population should be a priority to avoid steps like lockdown, scientists said.
“The real urgency is to widen the pool of vaccinated people as much as possible,” said Carlo Federico Perno, head of microbiology and immunology diagnostics at Rome’s Bambino Gesù Hospital. The EU’s medicines regulator is also evaluating the use of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine in 5 to 11-year-olds.
Norway will offer a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to everyone aged 18 and older and will give municipalities the option of using digital “corona passes”, the government said on Friday. Norway has so far given a third dose only to those aged 65 and older. From December 1, Italy will also offer the third dose to people over 40.
“This (outbreak) will probably make the EU look at booster doses and say ‘we do need them pronto”Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.
UK bucks trend
The BBC reports that while many European countries are seeing steep rises in coronavirus cases and preparing to step up Covid restrictions, the UK has been going in the other direction.
Experts say differences in levels of immunity and people’s behaviour are the likely explanations.
The latest daily figure for the number of people testing positive in the UK is 40,375. This week has seen 7% fewer cases than the week before, while deaths are down 8.9%.
Travel latest: requirements for entering and leaving Madeira: is kept up-to-date on a previous post