Faced with soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases, many European countries have tightened anti-pandemic measures and accelerated vaccination programs.
According to the World Health Organization’s weekly report on Tuesday, during the past week in Europe there were 230 newly confirmed cases per 100,000 people within seven days, the highest rate in the world.
Experts believe that the new wave in Europe, now dubbed as the epicenter of the global pandemic, is related to the arrival of winter, premature loosening of COVID-19 measures and insufficient vaccination.
SURGE IN COVID-19 CASES
Data released by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a German disease control agency, on Friday showed 52,970 new cases and 201 new deaths from COVID-19 on a single day, with the seven-day infection rate (the number of new cases per 100,000 people within seven days) rising to an all-time high of 340.7. Germany reported on Thursday that the number of confirmed cases had exceeded 65,000 for the first time.
The Austrian Ministry of Health reported on Friday an increase of 15,809 new cases, the largest increase in a single day since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Moreover, new COVID-19 cases in Britain, France, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Greece, the Netherlands, Ireland and other countries have all reached new highs in recent days, placing heavy strain on the medical systems of many countries.
Polish Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski said Thursday his country might face a peak in infections next month, and the current bed occupancy rate for the treatment of new COVID patients in the country has already reached 72 percent.
In Slovenia, the pandemic has forced local hospitals to cancel non-emergency operations and prioritize using medical resources for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Experts believe that the increase in indoor activities in winter is one of the reasons for the rebound of the pandemic, but issues such as the premature relaxation of prevention measures and the need to increase vaccination rates are particularly important.
Lothar Wieler, RKI’s president, said on Wednesday that Germany was “opening too many fields too fast.” In his view, clubs and bars must be closed, large-scale events should be cancelled, and pandemic prevention regulations should be strictly enforced.
Irish Health Service Executive chief Paul Reid said Thursday that after the country lifted most of the pandemic prevention measures last month, the number of new cases, hospitalized cases and severe cases had increased significantly, putting tremendous pressure on the national medical system.
Meanwhile, experts have emphasized the importance of vaccination to counter the pandemic. The RKI has warned that if there is no significant increase in vaccination rates based on the size of the population, the severity of the epidemic in Germany will be far greater than before.
According to Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester in Britain, the Delta strain of the virus can easily bypass natural immunity and vaccine immunity, and cause more symptomatic and serious infections in people who have not been vaccinated.
Experts believe that the worsening situation in some Eastern European countries, including Croatia and Slovenia, is closely related to their low vaccination rates, which are among the lowest in the EU.
TIGHTENING COVID-19 MEASURES
In the face of a new wave of Coronavirus, many European countries have tightened prevention measures and promoted vaccination.
Germany’s Bundesrat, the country’s upper parliament, approved amendments to the infection protection act on Friday in order to contain the accelerating rate of COVID-19 cases. The amendment introduces the so-called 3G rule, which stands for vaccinated, recovered or tested, and will apply in workplaces as well as on local and long-distance public transport.
“We are responding to the very difficult coronavirus situation with necessary and legally secure measures,” said health expert from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Sabine Dittmar on Thursday, when the law was approved in the lower house, the Bundestag.
To curb the pandemic, the Austrian government announced Friday that it will implement a nationwide lockdown from Nov. 22, as well as mandatory vaccination.
Under the lockdown measures, residents across the country will not be allowed to leave home except to go to work, shop for daily essentials or exercise. The lockdown will initially last until Dec. 12, with a re-evaluation of the situation after 10 days, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced.
Moreover, Schallenberg said nationwide mandatory vaccination will start from Feb. 1 next year. Those who refuse vaccination will be subject to heavy penalties, constituting the toughest measures in Europe in recent weeks.
The Netherlands is implementing three-week prevention and control measures, including restoring the 1.5-meter social distancing requirement in public places and restricting the business hours of commercial stores.
The country has also brought forward the rollout of booster vaccination, originally planned for the start of December, by two weeks. The campaign will begin with booster vaccination for people over 80 and front-line medical staff.
Countries including Italy, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Croatia, and Slovenia are also urging people to get vaccinated.
“The hospitals are filling up quickly and the number of infections is on the rise. I sincerely cannot imagine what would it take for people to understand how important it is to go and get the shot?” Hungary’s Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller said in a recent video posted on the government’s Facebook page.