LONDON — The latest wave of Covid-19 cases is hitting Europe with a vengeance with a number of countries seeing record numbers of daily infections, imposing partial lockdowns and placing more restrictions on unvaccinated people.
Germany shattered a new record on Thursday, reporting more than 65,000 new cases, with health officials warning that the true number of cases could be two or three times as many.
In the neighboring Netherlands, more than 20,000 new cases were reported Wednesday, a new record for the third day in a row, and in France, where a fifth wave of the pandemic is underway, the number of new cases topped 20,000 on Wednesday, a level not reached since Aug. 25, Reuters reported.
While the Netherlands and Austria have introduced partial lockdowns, other countries are desperate to avoid implementing full or medium-scale lockdown measures similar to 2020 given the economic harm they can do, instead opting for more Covid rules and Covid passports.
In Belgium, new Covid measures mandating working from home and indoor mask use have been announced, amid one of Europe’s sharpest rises for infections.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo is keen to avoid another lockdown, however, telling CNBC’s Silvia Amaro Wednesday that while there was an uptick in cases, it was not as dramatic as previous waves thanks to widespread vaccination.
Nonetheless, he said, “pressure is mounting in our hospitals so we have to be prudent, but prudent measures should enable us to avoid having to close down certain parts of our society or economy.”
Covid passes or passports are becoming the norm across Europe, and state an individual’s Covid status (whether one is vaccinated or recovered from a virus). They are not without controversy, however, and such passes are leading to an increasing number of public spaces — from bars and movie theaters to Christmas markets — becoming segregated, with access granted to vaccinated people but restricted for the unvaccinated.
Germany’s outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, is meeting the country’s 16 state premiers on Thursday to discuss her country’s national response to what she described yesterday as a “dramatic” situation.
Germany’s states have been largely free to determine their own Covid responses and public health measures, leading to different actions to the pandemic state to state, although the government has sought temporary powers to force lockdowns and other restrictive measures on areas with high infection rates.
As it stands, Germany’s state of emergency, which enabled the government to have tighter control over public health issues, is set to lapse on Nov. 25.
Some state health ministers have urged officials to extend the state of emergency (as it allows states to implement measures like lockdowns or school closures) but the three parties currently holding negotiations to form a new government have agreed to let the state of emergency expire next week.
Thursday’s new Covid case count, of 65,371 new cases, is the first time since the pandemic began that the number has been upward of 60,000 in a single day, Deutsche Welle noted. It also reported that Lothar Wieler, the head of the country’s infectious disease agency the Robert Koch Institute, said that the true number of cases could be much higher.
“The under-reporting of the true numbers is increasing,” Wieler said during an online discussion with Michael Kretschmer, the state premier of Saxony which has the highest seven-day incidence rate of Covid in Germany.
Wieler said he believes there were “twice or three times as many” cases a day than were actually being reported. “We are in an emergency. Whoever refuses to see that is making a big mistake,” he said Wednesday.
The fact that Germany is seeing such a sharp rise in cases is alarming particularly given that the country was widely praised with its early strategy to deal with the Covid outbreak.
Widespread testing and tracing, and a modern health care network, helped the country keep deaths far lower than its neighbors, although that gap has narrowed. To date, it has recorded over 5.1 million cases of the virus and almost 100,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. For comparison, France has recorded over 7.3 million cases and just over 118,000 deaths.
As vaccination programs were rolled out across Europe at the end of 2020 and early 2021, Germany’s was uncharacteristically sluggish and it has had to run vaccination drives to encourage uptake.