The escalation of infections and quarantines bitter the New Year’s Eve of vaccinated Europe | Society


The second New Year’s Eve since the pandemic broke out in Europe is much less bleak and deadly than the first, but tremendously disconcerting. The year 2020 left a ray of hope after the start of the vaccination campaigns on December 27, despite the fact that death rates remained very high. The end of 2021, on the other hand, ends with half the mortality in most countries, but with an explosion in the incidence of cases caused by the omicron variant. The new wave has led to widespread restrictions that in many European countries include the cancellation of events scheduled for a New Year’s Eve that was expected almost normal.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has updated its risk map this Thursday and all EU countries, except Romania, are in red or dark red, that is, the colors that identify a contagion rate of more than 200 or 500 cases, respectively, per 100,000 inhabitants. Most governments have been forced to adopt new control measures.

The suspension of the Christmas markets or of cultural and festive events augurs a very dull night for this December 31 in most of Europe. Brussels, Paris, London, Rome or Warsaw, among other capitals, have canceled the traditional concerts and fireworks. And almost all European countries have tightened restrictions in the last week of the year after the number of infections reached the highest figures since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

“It is better to cancel and celebrate later than to celebrate and grieve later,” recommended earlier this week the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghbreyesus.

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The omicron jolt has caught health authorities off guard. With almost 80% of the adult population in the EU vaccinated and in some countries more than 90%, the end of 2021 seemed set to mark a favorable turning point in the fight against the virus. The European Commission itself approved on November 25 a draft recommendation to generally relax the surveillance measures applicable to vaccinated people after Christmas and concentrate restrictions, tests and quarantines on those who are not vaccinated.

But only a few days later the omicron variant was identified. And on December 1, the Commission approved another communication in which it asked the States for contingency plans before the arrival of the new variant and the application of PCR tests, if necessary, for intra-community movements. The relaxation plans, scheduled for January 10, have been put on hold for the moment due to the deterioration of the epidemiological situation.

An 11-year-old girl receives the vaccine on November 28 in Amagar, Denmark.
An 11-year-old girl receives the vaccine on November 28 in Amagar, Denmark. OLAFUR STEINAR GESTSSON (AFP)

Five EU countries (Spain, France, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta) exceeded 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on December 28, according to data collected by One World in Data. And Denmark, according to the same source, reached more than 2,200 cases that day, the highest level reached in Europe so far. The trend is similar in much of the planet. The number of infected in seven days globally marked a record of almost a million daily infections on average between December 23 and 29, according to the count carried out by the Reuters agency.

The umpteenth lash of the virus, however, causes fewer deaths than previous waves. “In previous waves, the increase in infections implied a proportional increase in the ratios of hospitalizations and deaths, but this is no longer the case,” says a source from the European Commission.

Of the five most populous countries in the EU (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands), only Poland registered on December 28 a mortality rate per million inhabitants higher than that of the same day a year ago, according to One World Data data. In the rest, mortality per million inhabitants has been reduced by half or less, according to the same source.

The omicron strike, however, comes with part of the European population fatigued physically and emotionally by a pandemic that seemed under control with the arrival of vaccines. The disorientation of health authorities in adopting measures against the virus has also in certain cases encouraged discouragement and protests.

In Spain, the obligation to recover the mask outdoors was met with sarcastic skepticism and some associations of parents of students threaten mobilizations if schools do not reopen after the Christmas holidays. In Belgium, the authorities have reversed the closure of theaters and cinemas following the revolt of theaters against this measure. And in the Netherlands, where non-essential trade has been closed since November 19 to force a kind of self-confinement, thousands of Dutch have landed in neighboring countries to do their Christmas shopping and enjoy crowded streets and squares.

Freedom of movement within and across borders, much greater than a year ago, contributes to the rapid spread of the virus. And although mortality is lower, it also threatens to collapse hospital systems and to break production and distribution chains as a result of sick leave caused by the disease and quarantines imposed on people who have had close contact with a disease. infected.

The WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, advises restricting activities and trips during these days and doing only those that are considered essential. And, if they are carried out, “do it safely, with tests, ventilation, physical distance, rapid diagnosis and treatment.” Kluge also reiterates the call to “get vaccinated and reinforcement, reinforcement, reinforcement.”

European governments are already taking measures to prevent the escalation in contagions and contacts from paralyzing economic activity. Spain has been the first country in the EU to cut quarantine for those infected who after a week do not present symptoms, thus following in the wake of the United States or the United Kingdom.

For the same reason, preserving the stability of the workforce, the Italian government of Mario Draghi has lifted the quarantine for vaccinated people who received the last dose less than 120 days from contact. Beyond that period, the quarantine is lowered from seven to five days. And for the unvaccinated, the quarantine is 10 days.

In France, where daily infections have set a new record this week, with 208,000 in 24 hours, it has been decided to impose the mask outdoors in the country’s capital. Paris has also canceled the New Year’s Eve fireworks, has banned the consumption of alcohol in the street and will deploy 9,000 police and military to verify that all restrictions are met, including the closing of bars at 2 a.m., reports Silvia Ayuso.

The European Commission insists that the answer must be vaccination, the best protection, according to Brussels, “against hospitalization, serious illness and death” from covid-19. A source from the community body emphasizes that in this wave of the pandemic “the vast majority of people in difficult conditions in hospitals are unvaccinated.”


elpais.com

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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