There are growing concerns about a new wave of coronavirus infections across Europe, with rising cases in Germany, France and Italy posing serious risks to Ireland's path out of the pandemic.
With the number of Covid-related deaths in the European Union above 550,000 and less than a tenth of the population inoculated, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said the situation was worsening. “We see the crest of a third wave forming in member states, and we know that we need to accelerate the vaccination rates.”
Ireland, which in early January had the worst coronavirus infection rate in the world, is now below the European average for new cases.
The latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show Ireland has reported 144 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people over the most recent 14-day period.
As things stand, the Czech Republic has the highest infection rate in Europe.
The country of 10.7 million reported 1,518 new cases per 100,000 people on a two-week basis.
Estonia has the next highest rate on the continent, with 1,464 cases per 100,000.
Italy, which became the third country in Europe to exceed more than 100,000 deaths last week, is reporting 499 cases per 100,000. Prime minister Mario Draghi warned the situation would worsen again with a jump in hospital admissions.
France recently saw its biggest one-day jump in cases since November. The country is currently reporting 469 cases per 100,000.
The French government imposed new lockdown restrictions on Paris from midnight on Friday due to the increase.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany may need to apply an “emergency brake” on relaxing restrictions amid a rise in infections. The country is reporting 155 cases per 100,000, still low in comparison to neighbouring countries.
An expert at the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Tuesday that the number of infections in Germany is rising exponentially, with the country entering a third wave of the pandemic.
Poland, with a 14-day infection rate of 542, begins a new three-week lockdown on Saturday, with shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities closed.
The countries with the lowest infection rates are Iceland (8) and Portugal (93). The European average is 382 cases per 100,000.
Meanwhile, Ireland continues to live under one of the harshest coronavirus lockdowns in the world, according to an ongoing analysis from Oxford University.
The country's Level 5 restrictions are tougher than almost every other country in the EU, with the Republic near the top of a global ‘stringency index’ developed by the university's Blavatnik School of Government.
The index has recorded the strictness of lockdown-style policies in more than 180 countries since the pandemic began.
Each country is scored from one to 100 – with 100 being the most stringent – taking into account workplace and school closures, restrictions on public gatherings, travel bans and stay-at-home rules.
Ireland now has a score of 84.26. This is down from a high of 87.96 earlier in February, before in-person classes resumed in schools.
Ireland's approach is so strict that only five other countries are now recording a higher score – Lebanon, Eritrea (both 92.59), Greece (88.89) and Mauritius (87.04). Venezuela and Italy also scored 84.26, just ahead of Peru and Cuba at 83.33.
As of March 20th, the UK has a score of 82.41, followed by Hungary with 79.63, Germany with 77.78, and the Czech Republic and Austria both at 75.93. Croatia has the lowest score in the EU, at 43.52.
The countries with the most lenient lockdown rules are Nicaragua, Tanzania (both 8.33) and Afghanistan (12.04). – Additional reporting: Reuters