Covid rates are soaring in Europe: How does each country compare?

·7-min read
Covid rates are soaring in Europe: How does each country compare?

Countries across Europe have seen a surge in Covid cases in the past fortnight, prompting governments to impose fresh restrictions to bring the virus under control.

As the Continent heads into the colder winter months, scientists fear that a combination of waning immunity from vaccination and a return to indoor mixing could put health systems under pressure.

It follows a summer of mercifully low infection rates across Europe – with many countries lifting Covid measures almost entirely.

While the majority of Western Europe has opted to retain mandatory mask wearing indoors and vaccine passports, music festivals and large gatherings have been permitted since August.

Rules on foreign travel have also been eased for vaccinated EU citizens.

However, as cases soar and the weather grows colder the shadow of another lockdown looms for many countries in the bloc.

Here the Standard looks at how they compare.

Germany

Germany on Thursday reported its highest daily infection total since the beginning of the pandemic, with 50,196 cases recorded.

Jens Spahn, the country’s acting health minister, said on Friday that free testing kits would be introduced to curb the rise in cases.

The free tests, which were first offered from March as a way to offset a slow vaccine rollout, are being reinstated one month after they were stopped.

Mr Spahn also said that he supported a requirement for vaccinated people to show a negative Covid test to attend public events.

"We need to do everything necessary to break this momentum," he said.

The situation has caused a headache for German ministers, who have resisted contemplating another national lockdown or introducing mandatory vaccination.

Olaf Scholz, the country’s likely new chancellor, on Thursday announced that governors of Germany’s 16 states would meet with federal officials to discuss a package of new measures.

Covid restrictions are set on a regional basis in Germany, rather than at a national level. In Saxony, restaurants already ask for vaccine certification – with other states expected to follow suit.

More than half of Germans support introducing new restrictions to curb the new wave of cases, according to a poll conducted Forschungsgruppe Wahlen. This is up from just 20 per cent just two weeks ago.

Over 67 per cent of the German population over the age of 12 is double-vaccinated, according to the latest figures.

Germany has reintroduced free testing (AFP via Getty Images)
Germany has reintroduced free testing (AFP via Getty Images)

Austria

Austria will become one of the first countries in the world to impose a lockdown for the unvaccinated amid a surge in Covid cases and hospitalisations.

Upper Austria and Salzburg, two of the countries’ hardest-hit states, will adopt the measure from Monday with the government expected to expand this to the rest of the country soon afterwards.

Those living in the two states who are unvaccinated will only be allowed to leave home for specific necessary reasons, such as going to the doctor or the supermarket. Mandatory jabs will also be introduced for healthcare workers.

On Thursday, official figures showed an infection rate of 760.6 cases per 100,000 people – a rate three times higher than that of neighbouring Germany.

Around 65 per cent of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, national figures show.

Unvaccinated citizens who have not recently recovered from the virus are already barred from restaurants, hotels and large public gatherings.

Chancellor Alex Schallenberg on Thursday said it would be unfair for two-thirds of the country to lose their freedoms while another portion of the population is “dithering”.

He added: “For me, it is clear that there should be no lockdown for the vaccinated out of solidarity for the unvaccinated.”

Visitors walk past stalls at the old city in Salzburg as the ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’ took effect (APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Visitors walk past stalls at the old city in Salzburg as the ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’ took effect (APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Latvia

Latvia was the first country in Europe to return to a national lockdown last month. Under the current lockdown rules, all hospitality venues and shops have closed with only essential manufacturing and construction jobs allowed to continue.

Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the country’s health service “was in danger” amid a spike in hospitalisations, blaming an increase in cases on a significant portion of the population refusing to get vaccinated.

According to the latest figures, the Baltic country has fully vaccinated just 57.2 per cent of its population – far below the EU average of 76 per cent.

Recent figures suggest that lockdown has been working, with cases down from a peak of 3,206 on October 27 to 1,378 on November 11.

The streets of Riga are seen completely empty (AFP via Getty Images)
The streets of Riga are seen completely empty (AFP via Getty Images)

Romania

Romania is among several countries in Eastern Europe that are struggling with a fresh wave of cases coupled with poor vaccine rates.

Health experts have raised the alarm over persistent vaccine hesitancy among the population, originating in the erosion of trust in state institutions brought about by decades of communist rule.

Just 34 per cent of the country’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Financial Times’ tracker. This is less than half of the EU average.

The country recorded 6,921 new cases on Wednesday, while 405 people lost their lives. There are over 1,800 patients in serious condition in intensive care units (ICU).

Four severely ill Covid patients were flown to Italy for treatment as the country’s health service teeters on the brink of collapse. Hundreds of hospital patients have been left to wait in chairs for a bed to become available in ICU.

Hospitals in Romania are struggling with a wave of new patients (AFP via Getty Images)
Hospitals in Romania are struggling with a wave of new patients (AFP via Getty Images)

Portugal

Portugal has the highest vaccine coverage in Europe, with 86.4 per cent of its citizens now fully jabbed.

It has seen cases and hospitalisations remain low despite a spike in the past fortnight. The country’s average infection total stands at 1,119 – less than a tenth of its peak of over 16,000 daily infections in January.

The country adopted a cautious return to normality despite cases plummeting over the summer, and did not fully reopen nightclubs and large gatherings until October 1.

Despite its high vaccination rate and low number of daily cases, the country has retained rules on mandatory mask wearing in public spaces. Anyone attending a nightclub or restaurants on weekends must show proof of vaccination.

Portugal has now completely reopened (AFP via Getty Images)
Portugal has now completely reopened (AFP via Getty Images)

Netherlands

The Netherlands will impose Western Europe’s first partial lockdown since the summer over the weekend, Dutch broadcaster NOS said on Friday.

Bars, restaurants and non-essential stores will be ordered to close at 7pm for at least three weeks starting Saturday, NOS said, citing government sources.

Schools, theatres and cinemas will remain open - though people will be urged to work from home.

The changes are expected to be announced by caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte at a press conference on Friday evening.

It comes after new Covid cases hit a record high of 16,300 on Thursday. The country fully reopened in September, with ministers previously hoping that a high vaccination rate would obviate the need to reintroduce measures.

Around 85 per cent of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated against Covid, though the country has been slow to rollout its booster campaign. Third doses will only be offered to those aged 80 and over in December.

Sweden

The Scandinavian nation stood alone in choosing to pursue a herd immunity strategy at the beginning of the pandemic - drawing criticism from health experts.

However, the country’s death toll far eclipsed its neighbours, Denmark and Norway, which opted for tighter curbs.

Sweden’s government has again opted to take a different path to other European nations after removing the need for vaccinated citizens to take a test even if they have symptoms of the disease.

Covid testing fell by 35 per cent last week compared to a month earlier. That places Sweden in the bottom of the European Union along with countries like Germany, Spain, Poland and Finland, according to Our World in Data.

However, the timing of the decision, just as Europe is heading in to the winter season, has baffled some scientists.

“The number of cases is low in Sweden, but considering how the outside world looks like with lots of cases in Europe, I think you should have waited with this decision,” said Anders Sonnerborg, professor in clinical virology and infectious diseases at Karolinska Institutet.

On Thursday, the country reported 1,014 infections. Around 67 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated.

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