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COVID-19

In Depth: How Europe is ramping up new lockdown measures to fight coronavirus pandemic

The European Union agreed to close its external borders as countries ramped up their lockdown measures in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Here's a look at how countries are tackling the crisis.

In Depth: How Europe is ramping up new lockdown measures to fight coronavirus pandemic
AFP

The European Union has agreed to close its external borders for 30 days.

The entry of non-EU nationals will be restricted unless they have visas. EU nationals and Britons will be allowed to enter the EU though.

Quarantine, schools, shops and borders closed, gatherings banned, here are the main measures being taken in Europe to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Confinement

Italy and Spain, Austria and the Czech Republic, have taken strict confinement measures. Their citizens can go out only to work, for health reasons or to buy food.

France's President Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation on Monday evening to announce that the government was ordering people to stay home for 15 days unless for essential reasons.

Those reasons included grocery shopping, exercise, medical appointments and walking the dog. But it was now forbidden to friends or families outside. Anyone caught disobeying the rule would be subject to a 38 euro fine that could rise to €135.

The British government has asked people displaying symptoms to remain at home for a week.

Greece has imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals.

People returning from the main coronavirus hotspots must stay at home for two weeks in Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Russia and Slovakia. Germany has recommended the same.

 Borders controlled or closed

Spain announced Monday it would close its land borders at midnight.

Germany has stepped up border controls with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, only allowing through goods transit and border workers.

France is to bolster checks with Germany, while not closing its border completely.

Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Slovakia have announced the closure of their borders to foreigners, with Slovakia making an exception for Poles.

Russia has closed its land borders with Norway and Poland.

Austria has almost entirely closed its border with Italy.

Schools closed 

Schools, universities and creches are closed in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal,  Romania, Russia, Slovakia,  Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

Gatherings banned

In Belgium, Cyprus and Italy all gatherings have been banned.

Gathering of more than five people are banned in Austria and the Swiss canton of Geneva, while the Czech Republic has prohibited meetings with more than 30.

Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands and Switzerland have set the threshold at 100 people, as have Hungary and Romania for closed meetings.

Finland and Sweden have set the bar at 500 people.

Germany has cancelled  non-essential events gathering less than 1,000 people, a threshold also in force in Poland, Portugal and Romania.

Moscow has banned meetings of more than 50 indoors and set limits on outdoor events.

Restaurants and shops closed

Non-essential businesses have been closed in Andorra, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain.

In Belgium, nightclubs, cafes and restaurants are closed, as are pubs in Ireland.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands have ordered the closure of all places and businesses open to the public.

Greece has closed its museums and archaeological sites.

Transport disrupted

France has announced a gradual reduction of long-distance transport, including buses, planes and trains.

In Germany regional rail transport will also be heavily reduced.

Rome's second airport, Ciampino, is closed, while Fiumicino is to close one of its three terminals from Tuesday.

Poland has cancelled all domestic flights.

Ukraine has suspended air links and Russia has reduced them with the European Union.

Austria has suspended rail links with Italy and air links with France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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