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Countries across Europe impose curbs to slow new Covid-19 wave

Several European countries are reimposing restrictions in a bid to dampen down a worrying rise in Covid-19 cases. Governments are also taking more measures to encourage more people to get vaccinated against the virus.

Countries across Europe impose curbs to slow new Covid-19 wave
People queue up in front of a bar, in Eindhoven, The Netherlands as the country on Friday became the first country in Europe to impose a new partial lockdown. Photo: Rob Engelaar/ANP/AFP

What is the situation in Europe?

The weekly number of coronavirus cases across Europe has been on the rise since early October and now stands at levels unseen since the start of the pandemic.

Over the past seven days 2,125,775 cases have been registered, a daily average of 303,682, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

That broke the previous European record of 1,988,507 cases logged in the week of November 2-8 2020.

The latest figures also represent a 13-percent rise on the previous week. Five countries — Britain, Germany, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine — logged rises of more than 50 percent.

It is worth noting that many more Covid tests are being carried out now than was the case when the pandemic first hit the continent in early 2020.

The above chart from Our World in Data shows the seven-day rolling average for daily new confirmed Covid-19 cases per million people in the countries covered by The Local.

Are all parts of Europe affected equally?

The overall figures hide national differences which are due in large part to differences in the speed of the vaccination roll-out and the social health measures imposed.

In Britain, for example, though Covid cases numbers are on the rise, high vaccination rates have kept additional hospitalisations down, said Yves Coppieters, epidemiologist at the ULB university in Brussels. The same is not true of Eastern European countries, he added.

In countries such as Spain and Portugal, which are very well vaccinated, or indeed Italy which has taken tough measures, the rebound is still not very visible, he added.

France is somewhere in between, with a rise in cases “but less strong”, Coppieters told AFP.

On Friday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the situation was continuing to worsen in the EU.

Of the 27 member states the centre placed Belgium, Poland, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary and Slovenia in the category of highest concern.

How are countries responding to the surge? 

For most European nations the main goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. 

In France, where infection rates remain comparatively low, the requirement to show a Covid-19 health pass has never been lifted. But the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday said that health passes would on December 15th cease to be valid for over-65 year-olds who are eligible to have a booster shot but who have not yet had one. 

Some countries are going further, starting to reinstate some of the restrictions on movement which populations had hoped were over.

The government of Russia said on Friday it had submitted to parliament two bills that will introduce mandatory health passes to access restaurants and public transport, amid a new wave of coronavirus cases. Health professionals there will also have to wear masks and be tested for Covid twice a week.

In Austria, the government said it wants a nationwide lockdown for those not vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus.

Only around 65 percent of the population is fully vaccinated in Austria, a rate described by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg as “shamefully low”.

In The Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Western Europe’s first partial lockdown of the winter, with at least three weeks of Covid curbs on restaurants, shops and sporting events.

A side-effect of the tougher measures could be more public discontent.

Several hundred protesters angered by Rutte’s announcement gathered in The Hague afterwards, with police firing water cannon at them.

Denmark on Friday brought back its coronapas, with evidence of a negative test result or vaccination required to enter bars, restaurants, cafés and nightclubs, as well as large events. 

In Norway, new prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre, has made a similar move, on Friday announcing that municipalities across the country would be able to bring back the Covid-19 app, with the worst-hit city, Tromsø, saying that a valid pass would be required from Tuesday.

Other countries remain in wait-and-see mode. 

In Germany the parties likely to form the next government are considering measures such as restricting access to certain facilities only to those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the disease within the last six months – a system known as “2G” in Germany. 

The parties also want to tighten testing requirements for employers, and reintroduce free rapid antigen tests – a measure that had been in place over the summer but was scrapped in mid-October to incentivise vaccination.

In Spain, where face masks are still required indoors, some regions are starting to warn that it might be necessary to bring in new measures, with the government of Navarre even floating requiring a Covid-19 pass to enter bars and cafés, a measure that was barely used in Spain during previous waves. 

Only one country, Sweden, is actually loosening measures to control the virus. 

Going, as ever, against the herd, Sweden this month stopped requiring those who are fully vaccinated to get tested if they experience Covid-19 symptoms, and stopped offering them free PCR tests. 

This World in Data chart shows the proportion of the population in each of the countries covered by The Local that is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with Spain topping the list, almost twenty percentage points above vaccination laggard Austria.

Will we see the death rate rise?

Last week the WHO’s Europe chief warned that the current trajectory of Covid in Europe could mean “another half a million Covid-19 deaths” by February.

A daily average of 4,031 coronavirus related deaths have been recorded over the past week — a 10-percent rise on the previous week and an 18-percent rise on the week before that. A year ago the daily average was 3,785 fatalities.

“We are seeing a wave of infections due to the Delta variant and lower temperatures, but vaccination should prevent a correlation with hospitalisations,” said Coppieters. “There will inevitably be great heterogeneity between countries depending on vaccination coverage.”

These four Our World in Data charts demonstrate the impact of rising vaccination rates on ICU admissions and new deaths from the virus.

Will vaccinating more people be enough?

No, according to Coppieters. “The key is of course to vaccinate those most at risk to achieve herd immunity,” he told AFP. “For the rest of the population, we must above all maintain barrier measures, indoor ventilation and a testing policy,” he added.

Last week the WHO highlighted those methods, calling for continued vaccinations along with widespread use of masks and social distancing measures.

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For members


Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).