Wednesday, January 26

Europe falls as Covid hotspot in warning sign for recovery

Europe has once again become an epicenter for the coronavirus, questioning the region’s efforts to recover from the pandemic.

Despite the abundance of Covid-19 injections, countries from Germany to Greece have reported record infections in recent days, while Romania and Bulgaria are experiencing horrific levels of deaths and hospitals overwhelmed.

That gives new urgency to efforts to vaccinate the masses, whether that means getting the first doses into the arms of tens of millions of vaccines or preparing to offer booster shots to hundreds of millions more.

While governments are reluctant to reintroduce blockades, countries like Latvia have already concluded that there are currently few alternatives.

Here’s an overview of the pandemic across Europe after a sobering week:


The fourth wave of Covid in Germany is hitting hard, with infections reaching record levels this week and hospitals in some hot spots were overwhelmed. The country is now asking all adults to receive booster injections six months after their second dose, and Health Minister Jens Spahn said that should be “the rule, not the exception.”

With 16 million Germans who are eligible for Covid injections who have so far turned them down, authorities have little recourse but to press for greater protection for those willing to roll up their sleeves. The country’s efforts to respond are further complicated by a shift in power. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s authority is fading as Social Democrat Olaf Scholz advances efforts to form a new government.

United Kingdom

Coronavirus infections in England hit a new record in October, according to a large study from Imperial College London. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the study sends an “important message” about staying alert for winter.

Last month, the country kicked off its largest flu vaccination campaign in history to address concerns about an increase in Covid cases coinciding with a flu resurgence. The National Health Service walk-in centers in England have started offering coronavirus boosters for people at risk without an appointment. The British regulator also became the first in the world to approve Merck & Co.’s Covid-19 antiviral pill.


In Italy, some northern regions, including Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, have seen a rapid increase in cases, linked in part to protests by anti-vaccine activists against the introduction of a mandatory pass. The increase has prompted authorities to make a new effort to get people vaccinated.

“We are working to extend the booster dose to new age groups starting next week,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told a news conference in Rome on Friday. “We still have to catch up with the first doses and accelerate with the third.”


In France, where government restrictions helped keep infections relatively low, cases are starting to rise again. Officials across the country will reinstate masking mandates in schools, while President Emmanuel Macron will take stock of the situation in a speech to the nation on Tuesday.

Macron’s policy of requiring vaccination tests for restaurants, cinemas and other venues helped fuel the immunization campaign and has been widely recognized for keeping the count of cases, hospitalizations and deaths lower than some neighboring countries. The French legislature on Friday passed a bill that would keep the vaccine passport system in place until the end of July 2022, and officials are now encouraging older people to get booster shots.


Spain is a rare bright spot in Europe. Infections have been low since September, and hospitalizations continue to drop sharply.

More than 88% of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated and more than 1 million people have received a booster shot since the government approved the measure in early October.


While Portugal on Thursday reported the highest number of daily cases since Sept. 9, the latest figures are still just a fraction of the January peak, when the country faced one of the worst outbreaks in the world.

About 86% of the country’s population is now fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the world.


Ireland’s daily case numbers are at their highest level since January. The country postponed plans to remove most of the remaining restrictions last month.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Friday refused to rule out new limits on activity before the end of the year if the health system comes under new pressure.


In Greece, five record highs in the past six days have prompted a new round of restrictions, and unvaccinated people must now submit a negative Covid test to visit some shops, beauty salons and restaurants.

The measures exempted supermarkets and pharmacies, but also churches, sparking further criticism for the government’s handling of the pandemic.


In Denmark, where more than 75% of the population is fully vaccinated, the number of daily cases has doubled in the last 10 days and hospitalizations have skyrocketed.

Soren Brostrom, head of the country’s health authority, urged the government on Thursday to re-introduce some restrictions, including the use of Covid-19 passports at public events.


Hungary’s slow vaccination campaign and lack of action by Covid have helped drive one of the fastest infection growth rates in the world.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is now trying to tighten some restrictions, including the reintroduction of a mask mandate on public transport. Employers can also require vaccination certificates from workers, which can be sent on leave without pay if they refuse. In an interview on state radio on Friday, Orban said more restrictions could be introduced later, without providing details.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic had its worst week of infections since March, when it suffered one of the deadliest outbreaks in the world. Hospitalizations are at their highest in six months, and deaths are on the rise as well.

The country is tightening the rules to make it difficult for unvaccinated people to visit restaurants and sporting and cultural events. But the outgoing government refuses to impose tougher social distancing measures or shut down parts of the economy again.


The Baltic region is reporting some of the highest per capita infection rates in the world. Estonia is considering further restrictions if the situation deteriorates.

Last month, Latvia became the first EU member state to re-impose a four-week lockdown after a surge in cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals. The nation’s parliament passed a law Thursday, giving employers the green light to fire unvaccinated workers.

Lithuania is extending a school break to curb the spread of the virus among children.


Romania recorded the highest death rate in the world last week. The lack of available beds has left people stranded in ambulances or to be treated in hospital corridors. Some patients received oxygen in their cars.

Bulgaria, the least vaccinated member of the EU, had its deadliest week of the pandemic, with more than 1,000 deaths. Authorities are tightening measures as they seek to avoid a lockdown before the November 14 general elections.

The Western Balkans have experienced near-record levels of infections in recent days. Serbia had its deadliest month of the pandemic in October. Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are very close.

Croatia tightened measures on Friday after reporting record infections. Public meetings will be limited to 50 people, except in cases where each attendee has a vaccination pass. The government also ordered vaccinations for all public sector employees starting November 15.

© 2021 Bloomberg

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