The new onslaught of the coronavirus in Europe is forcing the recovery of restrictions that few believed they would see again after vaccination campaigns. The virus has not only not disappeared, but a few countries in central and eastern Europe suffer in this second autumn of covid-19 its worst wave since the beginning of the crisis. The high incidences are being registered especially in territories with low vaccination rates, hence the German authorities have baptized the phenomenon that plagues half of Europe as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated”. The star virologist of this country, Christian Drosten, assures in his podcast weekly that will have to discuss the introduction of measures that were expected “to have been able to leave behind.”
Some countries have already done it or are about to. Night curfews for the unvaccinated, the closing of bars and restaurants and the most feared word: confinement, in this case for those who resist immunization. Health services in many states are at the limit or already exceeded, as is the case in Romania and Bulgaria, where daily deaths from the disease exceed those recorded in previous waves. Both countries have the vast majority of their population still unvaccinated. The German epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb, from the Leibniz Institute, believes that Europe has been caught off guard by autumn, with highly improved vaccination rates that are added “to the arrival of the cold and the consequent greater activity indoors and the relaxation of the measures of protection in public and private life ”.
Germany has been breaking the record for new daily cases of coronavirus for the entire pandemic for days. On Thursday it registered 50,000 positives, an unprecedented number that scares the authorities because it is growing very fast and day by day it is translating into the arrival of new patients to the country’s intensive care units. Berlin’s largest hospital, the Charité, has announced that it is suspending all scheduled surgeries. Acting Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Health Minister Jens Spahn will meet next week with the Länder to agree on measures, but many are already re-imposing restrictions on their own. In Saxony, for example, it is no longer useful to teach a negative test to enter a bar or restaurant, as before. They only accept vaccinated and recovered. Berlin imposes it next Monday.
For the first time, it is discussed in a country that is not given to imposing obligations on its citizens that certain groups, such as caregivers and health workers, should have vaccination in order to be able to work. The Government has approved once again offering free antigen tests. He stopped doing it to encourage vaccination. “Difficult weeks and months await us,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, said Friday.
In the Netherlands, the acting prime minister, Mark Rutte, has presented this Friday the new rules that will govern for the next three weeks to contain the increase in infections, reports Isabel Ferrer. “We have a very upsetting message with a lot of drastic measures,” Rutte said. “The virus is everywhere and must be fought everywhere.” The Government has decided to restore the safety distance of 1.5 meters between people. The closing hours of the hotel business are also brought forward at eight o’clock in the afternoon. Stores that are not considered essential, such as department stores, will close at six. Sports matches will be held without an audience, including the World Cup qualifying match, which will face the Netherlands and Norway next Tuesday. In addition, citizens are urged to work from home as much as possible, and not receive more than four guests at the same time.
The Dutch Ministry of Health accelerates, on the other hand, the administration of the booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine: those over 80 will receive it from next week and the population band between 60 and 80 will follow. It will be administered to health personnel who work in hospitals, and homes for the elderly and dependent. Hugo de Jonge, Minister of Health, has admitted that the new battery of measures “will generate great discussions. We can disagree, but it is important that healthcare remains accessible to all ”. The government wants to make it easier for companies to admit only vaccinated or cured employees. But if the negative test is not enough, a legal amendment is required, as well as the approval of Parliament, and this will be decided within about three weeks. The minister stressed that the new way of dealing with the covid pass “does not equal or force vaccination.”
The measures, announced after long deliberations, try to contain the increase in infections in the country, which exceeds 16,000 for the second day in a row. The previous record was 13,000 positive cases in one day and was registered in December 2020. Although the new rules keep cinemas, theaters and schools open – with classes of up to 75 students -, they represent a clear change of course since the Executive thought that with about 85% of the vaccinated population it would not be necessary to resort to a partial closure.
Austria is also heading towards much more drastic measures to curb the galloping wave of infections, much higher than last winter. The chancellor, the conservative Alexander Schallenberg, has announced that this weekend he can authorize the confinement of people not vaccinated or cured of covid-19, a measure that will require negotiations with the governments of the nine Austrian regions and a debate in the Parliament.
Schallenberg referred to the “shameful” vaccination rate in the country, which reaches 65% of the population (out of a total of 8.9 million) and is one of the lowest in Western Europe. Germany (67.4% of vaccinated) has put Austria, with which it has almost 800 kilometers of border and a lot of movement of workers from one side to another, in the list of risk countries, which forces those who do not vaccinated to quarantine upon entering the country.
The confinement of the unvaccinated, who could only go out to work, shop or take a walk, is already planned for Upper Austria, the region that lags behind in vaccination, starting next Monday, although details of how it is not yet known are intends to control that part of the population, reports Sara Velert. At the end of October, Austria approved a five-phase plan that directly targets the unvaccinated. After a certain threshold of cases and hospital occupancy, they will not be able to go to any public place. In the fifth phase, if 30% occupancy is exceeded in the country’s ICUs, they will be forbidden to leave home except for exceptions.
In addition, from this Monday bars, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty centers demand throughout the country to be vaccinated or recovered (negative tests no longer serve) to access the establishments. That has encouraged the Austrians. Local media report that this weekend the vaccination centers have registered queues that have not been seen in months. German newspapers speak of the Schnitzelpanik, a funny play on words about the fear of not being able to enter a restaurant to taste the typical Austrian dish. The Government is even considering forcing unvaccinated employees to present negative PCR in order to go to their workplace. Hospitals are beginning to be affected. The authorities in Lower Austria, in the northwest of the country, have been canceling all non-urgent surgical activity for days due to lack of beds.
The Hungarian government reintroduced measures on November 1. To use public transport, it is again necessary to wear a mask and hospitals again restrict visits. The authorities are pressing to improve the percentage of vaccinated through the workplace. Employers can demand immunization from their workers. If they refuse, they are discharged without pay. And after a year, if they are still not vaccinated and the emergency measure is still in force, they would lose their position.
Romania has introduced a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for unvaccinated people, and requires the presentation of a covid passport to access practically all closed public places. The unvaccinated are prohibited from entering non-essential establishments, and bars, restaurants and shops must obligatorily close before nine at night, reports Raúl Sánchez Costa. The authorities have also given the children two weeks of vacation to try to reduce the number of infections. The country has 65% of the population unvaccinated and a very fragile health system, with outdated facilities and a lack of personnel. It barely dedicates 6% of its GDP to sustaining it, the lowest percentage in the European Union. The death toll (463 last Tuesday, but it has registered peaks of almost 600) are the highest in the pandemic.
The most difficult situation is in Bulgaria, the poorest country in the European Union. Its third wave is being the worst, with 200 deaths a day on average in a population of almost seven million. Experts believe that the political crisis that the country is going through, without a government for months, is affecting the management of the coronavirus crisis. Bulgarians vote for their parliament this Sunday for the third time in a year. The Balkan country also has the worst vaccination rate in the EU. Only 23% of the population has the complete pattern. This week the country has asked the EU for help by activating the civil protection mechanism to receive equipment: it needs oxygen, respirators and beds.
The figures for Slovakia (5.5 million inhabitants), with one of the worst percentages of the vaccinated population, have forced its government to take more forceful measures that no one expected to see again in Europe. Since last Monday in half of the country – in regions with runaway infections – hotels, bars and restaurants are closed. The same goes for gyms, saunas and spas. Masks are mandatory indoors, but also outdoors, and no more than 100 people (all vaccinated) are allowed to gather in one place. Scientists advising the government are asking to limit the movements of the unvaccinated.
Also in the Nordic countries they begin to see the ears of the wolf. Denmark decided in early September to inaugurate the new normal and remove all restrictions. Now, at the start of your third wave, you have to reapply them. From this Friday, the covid passport is necessary again in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and all mass events. Employers may also request proof of vaccination, cure or negative test from their employees.
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