People celebrated the end of the coronavirus curfew on May 9, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. Now Catalonia is reintroducing restrictions amid a surge in Covid cases.
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LONDON – Europe is struggling to contain a surge in Covid-19 cases caused by the Delta variant, but as several countries reintroduce measures to control the spread, the UK takes the plunge and lifts restrictions.
From lingering vaccine skepticism in some countries to a surge in infections linked to the resumption of nightlife, Europe has to grapple with competing needs: reopening key economic sectors this summer while containing rising cases.
It’s not an easy balance to find, and a number of countries – including France, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain – announced new restrictions on Monday to curb the surge in infections, especially among younger people who are last in line get vaccinated against Covid.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced that vaccines would be mandatory for health and care workers and that a “health passport” (an app that shows vaccination status or a recent negative test) would soon be required to access cultural or recreational facilities greater capacity. From August, the pass is compulsory to access cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, planes and trains in France. Eventually, to encourage vaccination uptake, PCR tests will no longer be free unless they are part of a prescription.
“If we do not act today, the number of cases will continue to rise sharply and inevitably lead to increased hospital stays from the month of August,” Macron said in a television address to the public.
Similarly, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis gave a televised address on Monday announcing that Covid vaccinations are mandatory for nursing home and health workers and that only vaccinated people are allowed in bars, cinemas, theaters and enclosed spaces.
Greece, like France, is struggling to promote vaccine uptake among more skeptical citizens.
Mitsotakis pleaded with people to take Covid vaccinations and said: “The country will not be closed again by the attitude of some. There will be freedom for many. And protection for everyone. Because not Greece is in danger, but the” unvaccinated Greeks. “
Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told CNBC on Tuesday that the different approaches showed how nuanced the problem was.
“[It illustrates] how difficult and difficult it is for policy makers and scientists to make claims against such a formidable and unpredictable enemy, “he said.” We make predictions at our risk. “
The highly transmittable delta variant of the coronavirus is wreaking particular havoc among Europe’s younger populations as economies began reopening their nightlife recreational facilities, some after many months of closure. However, vaccination rates in younger people are lagging behind in the region, as many are only just being invited for their first dose.
While countries like France and Greece are still struggling to convince everyone to get the vaccine, other countries are rushing to give younger people vaccinations, which by sociability are considered vectors of the virus and are more vulnerable due to their partial or unvaccinated status .
A study in the UK in May found that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine provided effective protection against the Delta-Covid variant, first discovered in India. However, with just one dose or no vaccination, people are much more susceptible to infection.
Due to rising Covid infections, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted on Monday that the Covid restrictions had been lifted too early at the end of June. 8,522 new Covid cases were confirmed on Monday and on Saturday the country reported the highest number of cases since Christmas.
Rutte’s comments came after the government admitted it was surprised by the rising infection rate. It announced on Friday that it would have to shut down rules on bars and restaurants and nightclubs just days after reopening to curb the spread among younger people.
Spain also had to back down on the lifting of the measures. On Monday, officials said the country’s two-week Covid-19 infection rate was still rising, more than tripling in two weeks, Reuters reported. However, health emergency chief Fernando Simon said the pace of the increase has slowed in recent days and the recent wave may be nearing its peak.
Still, new restrictions were announced last week in Catalonia and Valencia, including closing most nightly venues and restrictions on social gatherings. In Valencia, the regional government asked its court to approve a curfew on cities with more than 5,000 inhabitants that are considered high-risk, including the capital Valencia and tourist favorite Benicassim.
For its part, Germany is seeing a slow increase (albeit from a low level) in Covid infections as many parts of the country relax restrictions.
Officials (including Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas) are reluctant not to continue the restrictions any longer than necessary. Nevertheless, the country is closely monitoring what is happening in neighboring countries.
Since Sunday, Germany has imposed stricter restrictions on visitors from Spain, who now have to present proof of vaccination against Covid, proof of recent recovery from the virus or negative test results, otherwise they have to be quarantined on arrival.
The UK is in stark contrast
In sharp contrast to its continental cousins, the UK government confirmed on Monday that it will lift its remaining restrictions on July 19, although its own infection rate remains high. Over 34,000 new cases were reported in the UK on Monday, marking the sixth day in a row. Covid infections are over 30,000.
In a speech in parliament, Health Minister Sajid Javid said that after monitoring the latest data, the government does not expect Covid infection rates to put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service.
“We firmly believe that this is the right time to bring our country closer to normal life,” said Javid.
“Now to those who say: Why take this step now? I say, if not now, when? There will never be the perfect time to take this step because we just cannot eradicate this virus. “
Professor Altmann said the UK’s strategy was “a gamble” but noted that the country was not in the same spot with its advanced vaccination program as it was at the beginning of the year when the alpha variant emerged.
“We’re in a different place because of the vaccine, but that shouldn’t be construed to mean that the NHS isn’t under pressure or that NHS doctors aren’t afraid of another wave. There are still dangers out there, ”he said.