By Kenneth Surin / CounterPunch
Europe is embarking on a fourth wave in Covid cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have placed several European countries in its highest-risk category for travel in recent weeks. On the list are Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Guernsey (Britain has been on the list for months).
As Europe confronts increasing numbers of infections and deaths, these countries were assigned a Level 4 warning, that is, the CDC is advising that Americans avoid traveling there, even if vaccinated.
Countries and territories assigned this category have an infection incidence rate of more than 500 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days– places with fewer than 100,000 residents with more than 500 cases cumulatively over the past 28 days are also placed on the CDC’s list.
In Germany an average of 58,053 cases per day were reported in the week leading up to 28 November. Cases have increased by 58% from the average two weeks ago, while deaths have increased by 59%. 100,883 people have died from the disease. The number of Covid patients in Germany’s intensive care units is also at its highest level since May. The government is said to be considering a lockdown for the unvaccinated– the health minister Jens Spahn said about these figures: “We’re experiencing above all a pandemic of the unvaccinated”. However, the group of the unvaccinated is small and concentrated—the German population is considered highly vaccinated, with 68% fully vaccinated and 71% having received one vaccine dose (as opposed to the US’s 59%/70%, Cuba’s 80%/89%, Burundi’s <0.1%/ <0.1%). Medical experts say the best indicator of how effective the vaccines are is the correlation between vaccinated and unvaccinated in ICUs. In Germany the ICU ratio is 1 vaccinated/10 unvaccinated with the above-mentioned 70% of the population partially vaccinated. That is to say, German unvaccinated individuals have a risk of ending up in an ICU that is 21 times as high as their vaccinated counterparts. Vaccine uptake is lowest in the conservative and rural south and the former East Germany, the latter attributed by some to a long-lasting distrust of government going back to its days as a Soviet satellite. Germany has recorded 3 cases of the new Omicron variant.
Belgium has slightly more ICU patients per 100,000 people in comparison to Germany, while 76% of Belgians are fully vaccinated and 77% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. It is bringing forward a meeting to 1December where the government will decide on tighter Covid controls. Hospital admissions are up 30% on a weekly basis as well. Belgium reimposed pandemic restrictions 4 weeks ago after a brief period without any measures, but Covid transmission rates are still rising, and the authorities are considering making face mask-wearing compulsory again.
The United Kingdom has reported an average of 43,482 cases per day in the week leading up to 28 November. Cases have increased by 20% from the average 2 weeks ago. Deaths have decreased by 21%, and so far the pandemic has claimed 144,775 lives. Between 19 November-25 November, 303,504 people tested positive, an increase of 9.5% on the previous 7 days. As of 26 November 69% of UK residents are fully vaccinated, 76% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 26.2% have received a booster shot. Face coverings are mandatory again in shops, public transport, schools and colleges in England from 30 November, as the country reports 3 infections of the new Omicron variant. Anyone coming into contact with an Omicron-positive individual is required to self-isolate at home for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.
The Netherlands has roughly the same number of ICU occupants as the UK at the moment– it is currently under a partial lockdown for at least 3 weeks as the country sees climbing Covid rates. Some hospitals have stopped chemotherapy and organ transplants to accommodate Covid patients in ICUs. Dutch hospitals have reached full capacity, and several Covid patients have been transferred to hospitals in Germany. Stricter lockdown measures came into effect on 28 November, and the country has at least 13 infections of the new Omicron variant. The Netherlands recorded 22,031 new Covid infections on 27 November, up from 13,848 new cases two weeks beforehand. 73% of Dutch are fully vaccinated and 76% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Austria has introduced a nationwide lockdown which is expected to last 20 days, but will be reexamined after 10 days. Austria has reported its first suspected case of the new Omicron variant. 66% of Austrians are fully vaccinated and 71% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Denmark is also considered highly vaccinated, 76% of its inhabitants have had two vaccine doses while 78% of its residents have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. It is now offering booster shots to all adults as cases rise. The Danish government said on 24 November that it would ask parliament to reinstate Covid measures, including mandatory face masks in public venues and the use of Covid-19 digital passes.
Sweden recommended on 24 November that everyone aged 18-65 should have a booster shot 6 months after their second vaccination. 68% of Swedes are fully vaccinated and 71% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Portugal has said it is to reintroduce vaccination certificates for public spaces including bars, hotels, restaurants and gyms and once again make face masks compulsory indoors, reports Reuters. The government said that all passengers arriving at airports in the countrywill have to present a negative Covid test. Vaccination certificates will also be required to enter large events, care homes and nightclubs. 87% of Portuguese residents are fully vaccinated and 88% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Slovakia went into a two-week lockdown on 25 November – non-essential shops and services are being shuttered, movement is being curtailed and gatherings of more than 6 have been banned. Slovakians are not allowed to leave their district unless for work, school or medical treatment. 43% of Slovakian residents are fully vaccinated and 48% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Czechia had a record 26,000 cases on 23 November, and the infection rate over 7 days rose to a record high of 1,097 new cases per 100,000 residents. 59% of Cech residents are fully vaccinated and 62% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The government has declared a 30-day state of emergency and introduced new Covid restrictions. The state of emergency came into effect on 26 November– Christmas markets will be banned and alcohol consumption in public places will be forbidden. Bars, restaurants, night clubs and casinos must close at 10pm, and culture and sports events will be limited to 1,000 people and those who have either had the vaccine or recovered from the Covid virus. All other public gatherings will have a capacity limit of 100. Czech hospitals have halted planned operations and limited other care in the past days as the number of patients with Covid-19 has doubled to around 6,000 over the past three weeks, one of the world’s fastest rates of new infections. The government is also considering obligatory vaccination for some people.
Croatia’s hospitals in the country, which has one of the EU’s lowest vaccination rates– only 47% of Croatians are fully vaccinated and 53% have received at one dose of a coronavirus vaccine – are said in a critical situation as a result of the surge in new infections.
Slovenia hit its highest number of daily Covid cases back at the beginning of November. 55% of Slovenian residents are fully vaccinated and 59% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Ireland has experienced a rise in Covid cases after lifting the strictest lockdown in the EU. 77% of Irish residents are fully vaccinated and 78% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The government is considering increased antigen testing, providing more digital Covid certificates and booster shots, compulsory mask wearing outdoors at sporting venues and more provision for working at home. Reuters reports that the Irish deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar (a medical doctor), has said the country’s regulator is expected to approve vaccines for 5–11-year-olds in the coming days.
France reported more than 30,000 new infections on 24 November for a second consecutive day. At the same time, the 7-day moving average of daily new cases is at a 3-month high of 21,761, increasing almost 4-fold in a month. 70% of French residents are fully vaccinated and 77% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. On 26 November the French government made mask-wearing indoors mandatory, and they will also be required at events such as Christmas markets. Vaccine booster shots for all adults will be introduced, with the interval between initial doses and boosters cut to 5 months. From 15 December, the health pass for people aged over-65 will cease being valid if they have not had a booster 5 months after the initial shot. The same rules will apply for all adults aged 18-plus from 15 January.
Portugal is to reintroduce vaccination certificates for public spaces including bars, hotels, restaurants and gyms. Face masks will be compulsory indoors, reports Reuters, which also said that all passengers arriving at Portuguese airports will have to present a negative Covid test. Vaccination certificates will also be required for large events, care facilities, and nightclubs. 87% of Portuguese residents are fully vaccinated and 88% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Switzerland’s voters backed Covid passes by 62% in a referendum on 28 November. The Covid certificate requires people to have had a vaccination or antibodies to enter restaurants and other indoor spaces. Switzerland reported 8,033 new Covid cases on 28 November, rising from 3,297 on 25 October, and 15 new deaths. 66% of Swiss residents are fully vaccinated and 68% have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.