EU nations reimpose Covid measures as cases surge
Multiple EU member states are maintaining or reimposing Covid restrictions as the Delta variant fuels an alarming surge in cases.
Hospital admissions, however, have not so far followed the same curve, with officials suggesting that as vaccination campaigns advance, hospitalisation data should become a bigger factor in assessing and responding to the pandemic.
Hardest hit is the Netherlands, where according to OurWorldinData daily cases have risen almost sevenfold, from a rolling seven-day average of 49.2 per million people on 4 July to 328.7 on Sunday, prompting authorities to reverse some relaxation measures.
Since Saturday, Dutch cafes and bars have been required to shut at midnight, while nightclubs and discos must stay closed close altogether. “Be sensible,” said the prime minister, Mark Rutte. ‘Keep parties small and manageable; stick to the basic rules.”
The government has suspended its “test for access” scheme for clubs and other nightlife venues – although not for theatres and sports stadiums with seating room only – until at least 14 August. People under 25 account for the majority of new infections, it said.
The health minister, Hugo de Jonge, said holidays could be affected by the surge, but he was hopeful other EU countries would look at hospital data rather than infections when deciding whether to impose quarantine or test requirements on Dutch travellers.
“Two weeks ago all the signals were green,” De Jonge said. “Now there is reason to intervene. This is unprecedented.” However, hospital admissions remain low at 2.7 per million, down from a peak of more than 100 in early April.
Other countries to have experienced rapid surges include popular holiday destinations such as Spain, Portugal and Greece. Cases in Greece and Spain have more than doubled in the past week, from seven-day averages of 69 and 157 per million to 176 and 316 respectively. Spain’s Catalonia region, which includes Barcelona, has reimposed curbs on nightlife in an effort to tame an increase mainly among unvaccinated young people.
Nearly half of Portugal’s population are back under a night-time curfew after daily new cases reached their highest level since February. Several regions of Portugal also now require a vaccination certificate or negative test to book into a hotel or eat indoors at a restaurant.
“We continue to observe a worsening of the pandemic,” said a government spokesperson, Mariana Vieira da Silva, adding that 60 Portuguese municipalities now represented a “high risk” of transmission, up from 45 the previous week.
New infections in France have surged by 65%, from an average of 34 to 56 per million over the same seven-day period, and Emmanuel Macron is due to address the nation on new measures – possibly including mandatory vaccinations for health workers – on Monday night.
Macron could decide to go further by requiring the use of the country’s digital certificate proving either vaccination, a negative test or immunity far more widely, for example in cinemas, theatres and even restaurants.
As in much of Europe and the US, France’s rate of first-dose vaccinations has started to slow somewhat as it begins running up against more vaccine-hesitant or hard-to-reach groups, potentially threatening the goal of herd immunity. So far 53% of the total population have had one dose and 39% are fully vaccinated.
New infections in Germany are rising more slowly, from an average of 6.8 per million to nine, an increase of 32%, with new weekly hospital admissions remaining low at 1.7 per million. German media reports suggest that as the new wave advances, authorities want to concentrate on hospital admissions rather than infections.
Cases ticked up last week after two months of steady decline. The health minister, Jens Spahn, has said lifting remaining restrictions will depend on vaccination rates, with social gatherings of more than 10 people not from the same household remaining barred for those who are not fully vaccinated.
While 90% of over-60s will soon be vaccinated, it will take a “big publicity drive” to reach a rate of 85% among younger populations, he said. About 57% of Germany’s adults have received at least one dose and almost 39% are fully vaccinated.
The Bild daily reported on Monday that the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the national disease control agency, was pushing for hospital admissions to be “an additional leading factor” when assessing the state of the pandemic.
Citing an RKI document, the paper said the agency believed that “several indicators would still be necessary for evaluation, but their weighting should change” owing to a “decrease in the proportion of severe cases” due to widespread vaccination.
Experts have said the Delta variant could account for 70% of all cases in Europe by early next month, rising to 90% by the beginning of September.