COVID-19 spike felt across Europe as vaccination remains stagnant

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COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in various parts of Europe as the cold weather has affected the spread of the virus.

Countries on the Old Continent are attempting to curb the spike through various means — from introducing lockdowns for the unvaccinated to limiting access to certain services, or pushing for an increase in vaccination rates.

Here is a run-down of the latest situation in some of the European countries:

Austria

On Monday, the Alpine country implemented a nationwide lockdown for its unvaccinated citizens. The rule, which took effect at midnight on November 15, prohibits people 12 years and older from going outside except for essential activities such as work, attending classes, grocery shopping, or for a walk.

The number of police patrols has been increased and those found breaking the rules can be fined up to €1,450.

“This is a dramatic step,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Austrian Oe1 radio, explaining the lockdown rule.

“In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown, and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”

About 64% of the population is fully vaccinated, a rate that Schallenberg described as “shamefully low.”

Austria on Sunday recorded 849.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days.

Germany

Cases in Germany hit yet another record, with 303 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.

Brandenburg, which includes Berlin, became the latest of several of the country’s federal states to ban unvaccinated people — even if they tested negative for COVID-19 — from restaurants, museums and other public venues.

The country is experiencing a particularly harsh wave of infections after its traditional autumn holiday break.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a new appeal on Saturday for those still undecided to go and get vaccinated.

“If we stand together, if we think about protecting ourselves and caring for others, we can save our country a lot this winter,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.

Still, the Chancellor warned that “these are very difficult weeks ahead of us.”

The country’s disease control centre last week called for people to cancel or avoid large gatherings, while the possibility of returning to remote work is being considered as well.

Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign, with just over two-thirds of the population being fully vaccinated, and is trying to ramp up the percentage of booster shots.

The Netherlands

In response to a spike in those testing positive for COVID-19 — a record-breaking number of 16,364 infections were registered on Friday — the Dutch caretaker government implemented a partial lockdown on Saturday night that is due to run for at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 8 pm.

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The soaring number of cases in this nation of 17.5 million comes despite more than 84% of the Dutch adult population being fully vaccinated.

In the northern city of Leeuwarden, hundreds of young people gathered in a central square to protest against the measures, setting off fireworks and igniting flares in front of the riot police who had assembled to quash the protests.

Hospitals in the southern province of Limburg — the hardest-hit Dutch region — stated in a letter to the health ministry that they are ”heading straight for a healthcare blockage and the entire system is grinding to a standstill.”

Belgium

Hospital admissions are going up at a rate of 30% per week. The Belgian government has moved its meeting on implementing tighter measures to control the spread of COVID-19 from Friday to Wednesday.

The number of patients in ICU has gone beyond 500, further straining the healthcare system in the country.

Belgium has been in the midst of a spike in cases since about a month ago, when the government reimposed some restrictions, only to relax them a few weeks earlier. However, the infections have continued to rise, with more than 10,000 reported each day over the past week.

Switzerland

After nearly 4,000 new cases were reported on Friday, Tanja Stadler, head of the country’s COVID-19 Task Force said that hospitals might have to admit up to 30,000 COVID patients this winter, according to the Swiss outlet Le Matin.

About 64.9% of the alpine country’s population is fully vaccinated according to the latest figures. Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers demonstrated against a government-led vaccination drive, with riot police having to protect public vaccination sites in places like Zurich.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria has topped the list of countries worldwide in the number of COVID-related deaths. With the latest figure reaching 283.68 deaths per one million inhabitants, the wave in this Balkan country has still not relented.

The grim situation has deteriorated to the point where hospitals in Bulgaria are forced to temporarily suspend all non-emergency surgeries so more doctors can treat the influx of COVID-19 patients. At the same time, parents across the country have protested a measure demanding that schoolchildren be tested once a week in order for in-person classes to resume. Protests against the Green Passes also entered their third week.

Bulgaria, which held its third general elections of the year on Sunday, has the lowest double vaccination rate among EU member states, sitting squarely at about 23%.

Romania

Like Bulgaria, Romania has found itself in the throes of a deadly spike in cases, with reports claiming that the morgue in the main hospital in the capital has run out of space for the dead in recent days.

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Five European countries — Italy, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and Poland — offered to help Romania treat as many patients in critical condition as possible, and just last Wednesday, four Romanians with severe forms of COVID-19 were flown to Italy.

Although the cases seem to be on a downward trajectory, the current bi-weekly average of 724.42 citizens testing positive for COVID-19 is still considered to be grave in a country of 19.29 million.​

Serbia

In Serbia, the rate of fully vaccinated citizens has slowed down significantly since May and remains at 43%, despite the country’s initial success in procuring a large number of vaccines by several different producers as early as January.

The country of almost 7 million has been averaging at least five thousand cases per day since mid-September.

The government responded by reintroducing some light measures, such as bars, cafes, restaurants, and other public venues requesting their guests present a COVID pass after 10 pm.

Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić’s statement last month that she “doesn’t believe in [going back to] the same measures that were implemented before the vaccines,” pondering the purpose of the vaccines altogether if lockdowns continue to be a necessity, has come under heavy scrutiny.

Some doctors are now threatening to sue her due to conditions in certain hospitals that forced the medical workers to focus exclusively on treating covid patients. Brnabić has rejected that criticism, saying on Thursday that she is proud of her government’s response.

Meanwhile, authorities at the graveyard in Belgrade say they have an average of 65 burials a day, compared to between 35 and 40 before the pandemic. Gravediggers are forced to bury people on Sundays — which typically they didn’t — to handle the load.

Croatia

Soaring infections appear to have been a wake-up call to some extent in Croatia, which saw unusually large lines of people waiting for vaccines in recent days.

Authorities said on Wednesday that more than 15,000 people received their first dose a day earlier — a significant jump after vaccinations had all but halted in the Adriatic country of 4.2 million.

At the same time, anti-vaxxers held vigils in a number of cities in the country after the government announced plans to introduce mandatory COVID passes for government and public employees, including school teachers.

Some protesters were seen wearing a yellow Star of David, imitating those forced on the European Jewry in Nazi Germany, local outlet Index.hr reported.

Greece

The Mediterranean country has entered a new, fifth wave of the pandemic, brought on immediately after the fourth one caused by tourists from around the continent flocking to its shores during the holiday season.

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The surge in cases has seen the numbers soar to a weekly average of 6,710 cases per day, while hospitals in places like Thessaloniki and Volos ran out of ICU beds to the point of having to intubate patients in hallways and parking lots.

The government and the ministry of health responded by pushing for an increase in vaccinations and demanded that doctors in private clinics volunteer their services to state-run hospitals to help with the influx of patients.

Although the country is faring relatively well in terms of vaccinations, with about two-thirds of its population receiving both jabs, the numbers vary wildly between Greece’s regions. The northern regions, in particular, have a very low rate — well under 50% in some places.

Latvia

Last month, Latvia introduced a nighttime curfew from 20:00 to 05:00 due to the worsening coronavirus situation in the Baltic country of 1.9 million. Most stores were closed, and indoor and outdoor gatherings, including entertainment, sports, and cultural events weren’t allowed.

As these restrictions ended on Monday, the government has now revised its measures, allowing for those with certificates proving vaccination or recovery to access all services.

Restrictions are still in place for the unvaccinated, who can as of Monday only do basic things outside of their homes, such as grocery shopping or travel with public transportation.

Latvia is still seeing a significant number of cases emerge, with a bi-weekly average of 1,533.33 testing positive per 100,000 inhabitants.

Denmark

On Friday, Denmark reintroduced its digital pass as it declared COVID-19 “a socially critical disease” once again amid an increase in cases.

For the next month, a valid pass is mandatory in order to enter nightclubs or cafes or to be seated indoors in restaurants.

People above the age of 15 must show their pass when attending outdoor events where the number of people exceeds 2,000.

The Danish pass app shows a QR code with a green banner if the holder is fully vaccinated or received the first dose at least two weeks ago, has recently recovered from COVID-19 or has had a negative test in the past 72 hours. A paper version is also available.

The rest of Europe

The list of countries that have registered the biggest acceleration rate in the number of positive cases — an indicator that the country might be nearing a spike — includes Hungary, Poland, France, Italy, and Spain. All of the countries are currently considering different measures to prevent the spread.

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