Europe plays safe with virus curbs, fearing new variants

London – While some European countries are seeing virus cases fall, most are keeping national curbs in place, fearing new more infectious variants could cause infections to soar.

This cautious approach comes as vaccination programmes are still getting off the ground.

The United Kingdom is leading, having given a first vaccine dose to 13 million people (almost 20 percent of the population) but very few have yet received the second dose.

The European Union has given out more than 18 million doses to 12.8 million people, or nearly 3 percent of the bloc’s population, according to a tally by AFP based on official sources.

More than 150 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been administered globally (as of Feb 11)

 

– United Kingdom –

 

The United Kingdom is one of the worst affected countries with almost 115,000 deaths from the virus, while authorities hope the peak has passed.

The number of cases has topped 3.9 million but new cases, hospitalisation figures and death rates have fallen steeply.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said last week the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic appeared to have peaked.

In early January, the government imposed a fresh lockdown and closed schools after a dramatic rise in cases at the end of 2020, linked to the new more infectious variant first found in Kent, southeast England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is hoping to start lifting lockdown on March 8, banking on its mass vaccination drive to cut infection rates.

The country is on track to meet its target of giving a first virus dose to the over-70s as well as those deemed clinically vulnerable and carers.

The UK fears new mutations of the virus could weaken vaccines’ effectiveness. It has imposed stricter rules on travellers arriving from abroad including a required negative test and jail terms of up to 10 years for those who lie about visiting a high-risk country.

‘Past the peak’ of the third wave, says England’s chief medical officer (Feb 3)

 

-France –

 

France has stubbornly high figures that are only slightly trending downwards. It has confirmed more than 3.3 million cases and the death toll rose above 80,000 on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, there were 27,000 people in hospital, close to the peak figures of over 30,000 during spring and autumn 2020. The average daily death figure this month is 450.

The government in late January refused to impose a third lockdown and has promised to do all it can to avoid one, going against the recommendations of some virus experts and doctors.

At the same time the country has maintained a 6 pm curfew since mid-January. Bars, cafes, restaurants and arts and sports venues have been closed since October.

The government fears new variants could lead to a runaway surge in cases, as they accounted for some 14 percent of cases in late January.

 

-Germany –

 

Coronavirus infection numbers have reduced significantly in Germany after more than three months of lockdowns, but fears are growing over more contagious virus variants first detected in Britain and South Africa.

New cases are around 8,000 per day, a level last seen in October, 2020, while deaths remain relatively high at around 800 per day.

Shops, restaurants and venues for arts, sports and leisure have been closed since mid-December.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government are seeking to extend these restrictions until mid-March, while allowing some preliminary relaxations, such as the reopening of schools.

Stacks of coffins: German crematorium struggles in pandemic (Jan 14)

 

– Spain –

 

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain, one of Europe’s hardest-hit nations, has topped three million.

There were 16,402 cases on Tuesday, down on a month ago, but the daily deaths at 766 were up significantly.

The Spanish government still opposes another strict lockdown similar to spring last year, urging regions to impose whatever measures they deem appropriate.

These include 10 pm curfews, closure of bars and restaurants and bans on leaving or entering a region.

Why does a virus mutate?

Many regions have tightened restrictions, flattening the virus curve.

Fearing the new variants, the government has extended restrictions on flights from the UK, Brazil and South Africa until March 2.

The country’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simon said Monday the virus curve was “favourable”, but “we cannot lower our guard at all”.

Spain has already administered more than two million vaccine doses and more than 800,000 people have already received a second dose.

European countries where Covid-19 have been detected (as of Feb 8)

 

-Italy –

 

Italy is still hard-hit by the virus, with the death toll now above 91,500. Over the past week, there have been an average of 13,000 new cases per day.

A nationwide curfew is still in effect from 10 pm to 5 am and travel between regions is prohibited, but restaurants and bars are allowed to open until 6 pm.

Cases of the new Brazilian and Kent variants have been discovered in Italy.

The president of the Gimbe public health foundation, Nino Cartabellotta, warned of “the threat from the new variants that have already arrived in Italy and risk exploding the virus curve”.

 

– Sweden –

 

Sweden has a strategy of fewer anti-virus restrictions and has seen new cases fall since mid-December.

But the most recent figures suggest this could be coming to an end and the authorities are concerned the third wave could be just around the corner.

“It is still uncertain how the British virus variant will affect the spread,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said, stressing the need for social distancing and working from home if possible.

Sweden has introduced a requirement for negative tests for foreigners looking to enter the country and in January passed a special pandemic law giving the government wider powers to issue curbs.

Lockdown shy Sweden tweaks Covid strategy