Despite the widescale availability of vaccines this winter compared to the last, Europe is the only part of the world reporting an increase in new Covid-19 cases globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday. This is the third consecutive week the region has recorded a rise in cases, it added.
Caseloads may be high in some Western Europe countries, but thanks to vaccines, Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations have remained largely flat compared to their Eastern counterparts.
From Monday, Romania will reintroduce night curfews and make health passes mandatory for most venues, days after it recorded 19.25 deaths per million people — one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death rates per capita.
Neighboring Ukraine reported its highest daily number of Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic on Thursday, of 22,415 cases, days after President Volodymyr Zelensky implored nationals to get vaccinated, saying it was the only way to prevent a lockdown.
“There are two ways at this crossroads: vaccination or lockdown,” Zelensky said in a televised interview with Ukrainian broadcast channel ICTV on Monday. “Every day we face this challenge and this choice. I am totally against lockdown… because of the economy.”
“Of course, not all that needed to be done was done for informing and explaining the inevitability and importance of vaccination,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists as the Kremlin admitted partial responsibility for the low vaccination rates. “But at the same time, citizens of our country need to take a more responsible position and get vaccinated,” he said.
No silver bullets
Western Europe won’t “reach the crisis levels that we saw in the past — with field hospitals being set up — [because] vaccines have definitely changed the game and in that sense there should be a lot of reason for optimism,” health expert Drobac said.
The United Kingdom, however, shows that vaccines are not a silver bullet, he added.
But its government has rejected such a move even as hospitalizations and deaths rise. Katherine Henderson, the President of the Royal College of Emergency Care, told Sky News on Sunday that the country’s health service was already in “a terrible place” due to Covid-19. Emergency departments across the UK are “already struggling to cope” with “large queues” of ambulances piling up outside, she said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instead urged people over the age of 50, and those at high risk of Covid-19, to get a booster vaccine in a bid to overcome waning protection from vaccines after six months.
This won’t be enough amid skyrocketing cases that can be fertile ground for the creation of new variants. On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency designated a descendent of the Delta variant, AY.4.2, a “varient under investigation” due to “some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta,” the government agency wrote.
“The UK the strategy has been very much focused on letting vaccinations do all the work. And I don’t think that’s going to be enough,” Drobac said.
It’s a dangerous strategy that relies on the unvaccinated, like children, getting infected to create a “level of overall population immunity from natural infection and vaccination,” he said. “The problem with that, of course, is that it not only allows for some unacceptably high level of hospitalization and death, but also that it may not work,” he added.
As the UK drags its feet on new measures, Ireland is holding off on dropping pandemic restrictions amid a resurgence of cases despite having one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates — of 92% of the population fully vaccinated, according to the ECDC.
During a press conference last Tuesday, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said Covid-19 vaccine passes will remain in place for indoor hospitality and events, masks will continue to be mandatory in indoor public spaces, and indoor hospitality will be confined to table service only.
Tara John wrote and reported from London. Rob Picheta, Niamh Kennedy, Ivana Kottasová, Frederik Pleitgen, Hannah Ritchie, Sharon Braithwaite, Allegra Goodwin, and Katharina Krebs contributed to this piece.
Covid chaos grips the East and uncertainty haunts the West. Europe is entering its second pandemic winter