Covid in Europe: Why some countries are considering lockdowns

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Covid In Europe: Why Some Countries Are Considering Lockdowns Covid In Europe: Why Some Countries Are Considering Lockdowns
Some European governments are considering reimposing unpopular lockdowns in the run-up to Christmas. Photo: Phillipe Lopez/AFP via Getty
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Tomas Doherty

Europe has become the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic again, prompting some governments to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns in the run-up to Christmas and stirring debate over whether vaccines alone are enough to tame the virus.

The continent accounts for more than half of the average seven-day infections globally and about half the latest deaths, the highest levels since April last year when the virus was at its initial peak in Italy.

Ireland, Austria, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are among the western European countries experiencing sharp increases in cases.

Austria's government is likely to decide on Sunday to impose a lockdown on people who are not vaccinated as daily infections have surged to record levels.

Around 65 per cent of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus, the lowest rate of any western European country apart from tiny Liechtenstein, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data.

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Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccinations, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament.

Thanks largely to vaccination, hospitals in western Europe are not under the same pressure they were earlier in the pandemic.

However, many are still straining to handle rising numbers of Covid patients while also attempting to clear backlogs of tests and surgeries with exhausted or sick staff.

Austria is currently seeing a serious impact on its hospital system, with one of the highest number of Covid patients per million people in western Europe.

Germany also has a relatively high number of Covid patients in intensive care units.

While infection rates in Germany are not yet as high as in some neighbouring countries, its relentless rise has set off alarm bells.

Outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern on Saturday about the high number of intensive care patients and rising death numbers, especially in regions with low vaccination rates.

Germany is reintroducing some policies to bring down infection rates. Free Covid tests have been restored, and a draft law would allow for measures such as compulsory face masks and social distancing in public spaces to continue to be enforced until next March.

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The Netherlands has begun a three-week partial lockdown from Saturday, western Europe's first since the summer. "The virus is everywhere and needs to be combated everywhere," prime minister Mark Rutte said in an address on Friday evening.

The measures coming into force in the Netherlands include restaurants and shops ordered to close early and spectators barred from sporting events.

Central and eastern Europe have been dealing with serious outbreaks that could overwhelm healthcare due to high vaccine hesitancy.

Latvia, one of the least vaccinated countries in the EU, imposed a four-week lockdown in mid-October. Its parliament voted on Friday to ban lawmakers who refuse vaccination from voting on legislature and participating in discussions.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia have also tightened restrictions.

Spain, once one of Europe’s hardest-hit nations, perhaps offers an example of how the risks can be managed.

It has vaccinated 80 per cent of its population, and while face masks are no longer mandatory outdoors, many people still wear them.

While infections have ticked up slightly recently, Rafael Bengoa, one of Spain’s leading public health experts, said that given the high vaccination rate, “the virus won’t be able to dominate us again”. – Additional reporting: Reuters, PA

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