Europe, On Alert For COVID At Easter: France Is Confined, Italy Tightens Restrictions And WHO Asks To Accelerate Vaccination

The rise in COVID-19 cases in Europe has pushed countries to toughen their measures against the pandemic. Europe continues to be immersed in the escalation of infections and is the region with the most new cases of coronavirus in the world. This Wednesday, March 31, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, the continent has reported 217,560 cases – only 30,000 less than at the peak of the European wave in January -, compared to 160,640 in Asia or 127,904 in Latin America and Caribbean, the other two regions with the greatest impact of the virus.

Some of the countries that have recently decided to tighten or extend restrictions due to the worsening epidemiological situation are France – with an incidence of 756 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days and the fourth country in the world that has reported more cases in the last week only behind giants such as Brazil, the United States and India–, Italy –501 cases per 100,000 inhabitants– and Sweden –721 cases per 100,000 inhabitants–.

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In comparison, Spain, which maintains a generalized perimeter closure in the Autonomous Communities and a common curfew at 11:00 p.m., registers a cumulative incidence of 165 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Germany (277 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and in a clear upward trend) is also considering tightening anti-COVID measures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has spoken this Thursday and has described the new restrictions in Europe as “necessary” given the increase in infections, the rapid spread of the British variant and the increase in displacements for Easter.

It has also called “unacceptably slow” the rate of vaccination on the continent, conditioned by setbacks in immunization – for example, Germany has decided to discontinue vaccination with AstraZeneca of those under 60 years of age.

Globally, Europe is in third place in the ranking of administered doses, far behind North America and, above all, Asia. Only 5.59% of the Spanish population is fully vaccinated, an even lower figure in countries such as France (4.15%), Germany (4.85%) or Italy (5.15%). Israel has already exceeded 55% of immunized inhabitants, in the US the figure is 16%.

This Wednesday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, announced an extension of the restrictions to the entire national territory as of April 3: curfew from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., closure of the hotel industry, non-essential shops, cultural and school centers -the latter for three weeks- and the introduction of teleworking in a generalized way.

Although movements between regions are prohibited from April 5 and mobility is limited to a maximum perimeter of 10 kilometers, there is the exception of second residences on weekends.

The package of measures, which were already being applied mostly in 19 departments, will be in force until May 2. In light of the restrictions adopted by the Executive, the french press it speaks directly of a “third national lockdown.”

As a result of the closure of educational centers, parents who cannot telecommute will have the possibility of availing themselves of an ERTE to take care of their children. In addition, the French Government has planned measures for traders and other sectors.

Macron asked citizens for a “complementary effort” and “responsibility” in the face of the increase in cases. “The virus circulates everywhere quickly, faster and faster, and hospitalizations are increasing in general,” said the French president in a message broadcast on television.

From this Saturday until April 5, the three national holidays of Holy Week, all of Italy will go into the “red zone”, the one with the greatest restrictions foreseen by the Government. Among other measures, visits to family and friends will be prohibited and it will not be possible to move between regions or municipalities.

In addition, those who arrive from other countries of the European Union before April 6 will have to present a negative test before entering and another negative test afterwards and undergo a five-day quarantine.

The Italian Council of Ministers approved this Wednesday a new decree to maintain until April 30 the measures to stop the coronavirus. Currently, ten regions are in the “red zone” and the rest of the country is in the “orange zone” and the curfew is in force between 10 pm and 5 am throughout the national territory.

The restaurants and bars only accept food at home and the cultural and sports centers are still closed. The italian press affirms that it is possible that in two weeks the Executive will review the measures, especially with regard to bars and restaurants.

The German government has asked its citizens not to travel at Easter, except for essential reasons, neither within the country nor abroad. From this Tuesday, any traveler who enters the country by air must present a negative test – either PCR or antigens – regardless of the place of origin, a measure that has been implemented in the face of the avalanche of German reservations in Mallorca.

Angela Merkel is in favor of restricting movement within the country and is studying how the “Länder” consistently implement the agreed measures, reports EFE. The chancellor has said that a strict measure to limit population movements, which has not been imposed in Germany so far, could be effective.

Merkel and regional leaders had agreed earlier this month to extend the current restrictions until April 18. Since November, restaurants, leisure and culture have been closed in general, while shops joined the closure in December.

While France and Italy tighten their restrictions, the Portuguese Government will meet this Thursday to decide whether to advance in the second phase of the de-escalation starting next Monday. This slow and gradual de-escalation began two weeks ago, in which schools, hairdressers and bookstores have been opening.

Before, in January, Portuguese citizens shut themselves up at home again due to the unstoppable increase in infections and deaths. “[El confinamiento] is probably the main factor that led to this reduction [de la pandemia]”, affirms to EFE the president of the National Association of Public Health Physicians, Ricardo Mexia.

Since this Thursday, Portugal has imposed mandatory 14-day quarantines on travelers coming by land from high-risk countries (such as the United Kingdom, France or Italy). The land border with Spain is closed, but cross-border workers and residents of Portugal are allowed to enter. In addition, flights to and from the United Kingdom and Brazil are suspended and for Easter only arrivals are allowed for “essential” reasons.

One of the countries with the worst health situation is Poland, with an incidence of 963 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days. The Polish government announced last week that shopping centers, gyms, kindergartens, hairdressers, libraries and other non-essential establishments will be closed for two weeks from Saturday 27 March.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Prime Minister, has not ruled out applying the state of emergency given the extreme situation in the country. Ahead of Holy Week, he has asked clerics to enforce security measures in religious celebrations.

Another country with a soaring incidence is Hungary: 1,240 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days. Until April 8, the measures that the country has already approved will be in force, including the closure of non-essential businesses, online classes and the curfew. “We are living through the most difficult weeks of the pandemic,” said Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister.

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