Lockdowns and bans on unvaccinated: How Europe is coping with Covid surge

Police in Austria have been patrolling the streets, checking people's vaccination status. Credit: AP

By Elisa Menendez, ITV News multi-media producer

As Austria prepares to go into a full nationwide lockdown and makes vaccinations mandatory to tackle surging Covid cases, how are other countries across Europe coping with the virus?

Several European nations report hospitals being at breaking point, while some lawmakers are reinforcing strict measures including lockdowns and banning the unvaccinated from public places.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Europe is once again at the epicentre of the pandemic, as the relaxation of restrictions and unequal vaccination rollouts have brought the continent to a "critical point".

Some countries have reached near universal vaccination of around 90%, such as Ireland, Portugal, Denmark and Malta, according to the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC). But on the other side of the bloc, the likes of Romania and Bulgaria have only fully vaccinated just over 30% and 20% respectively.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO head of emergencies, said: “Quite frankly, some countries are in such a difficult situation now that they’re going to find it hard not to put in place restrictive measures, at least for a short period of time".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned "storm clouds" of a new Covid wave are gathering over parts of Europe and could make their way to the UK.

"We have been here before and we remember what happens when a wave starts rolling in," he warned earlier this week, urging Britons to get their booster jabs.

So, how are some European countries handling a rise in cases?


The unvaccinated will no longer be allowed on public transport in Germany Credit: AP

On Monday, Germany's health minister delivered the stark warning that “by the end of this winter, pretty much everyone in Germany...will have been vaccinated, recovered or died”.

Jens Spahn's words come a few days after lawmakers approved new Covid measures banning unvaccinated people from using public transport as cases topped 50,000 for the third day running.

In a bid to combat weeks of spiralling cases, the legislation will require employees to prove they are vaccinated, recovered from Covid, or have tested negative in order to access communal workplaces.

Officials in the eastern state of Saxony are also poised to impose an up to three-week lockdown.

But the head of Germany’s disease control agency, Lothar Wieler, urged the government to close clubs and bars, ban large-scale events, and limit many public areas to only the vaccinated or those with Covid recovery certificates. He said the country has already entered into a “nationwide state of emergency”.

Mr Wieler, of the Robert Koch Institute, warned many in parts of the country are struggling to access regular medical care because hospitals and intensive care wards are so overstretched and struggling to find beds for patients.

“All of Germany is one big outbreak,” Mr Wieler said. “This is a nationwide state of emergency. We need to pull the emergency brake.”

On Thursday that 65,371 newly confirmed cases had been reported in a single day, the Robert Koch Institute said.

Why is Europe seeing a surge in cases? Professor Linda Bauld explains

The reason Europe has seen such a large Covid wave comes down to a few variables, according to Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Edinburgh.

Firstly, she said key age groups in some central European countries had much lower vaccine take-up "than we would like."

She also said the spread of the much more transmissible Delta variant, which has been dominant in the UK for months, is now spreading across the continent.

Many European countries also adopted a different approach to administering the vaccines, choosing to give the second dose three-four weeks after the first, rather than the UK's 12 weeks.

Although three-four weeks was often the manufacturer's recommendation, recent evidence suggests the longer you wait between doses may increase the longevity of a person's protection from Covid.

Finally, the time of the year has played a part - the Delta variant spread across the UK in the warmer months but it is moving through Europe as winter sets in.

The Netherlands

Bars and restaurants have a curfew of 8pm local time under new Covid restrictions in The Netherlands Credit: AP

Currently in the throes of a three-week partial lockdown, The Netherlands implemented the first shutdown in Western Europe since a new wave of infections began surging across parts of the continent.

Bars, restaurants and supermarkets have to close at 8pm local time, professional sports matches are being played in empty stadiums and people have been urged to work from home as much as possible.

Shops selling non-essential items have to close at 6pm, while social distancing has also returned.

Announcing the lockdown starting on Saturday November 13, Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his government wants to "deliver a hard blow to the virus" as hospitals warned they are overburdened with Covid patients.

“Tonight we have a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching decisions," he said at the time.

The measures came after the country saw its highest ever number of new Covid cases in a single day of 16,364 on Thursday November 11.

Christmas and New Year celebrations have already been cancelled. In Utrecht, organisers have called off its Santa greeting at the annual Sinterklaas party - usually attended by tens of thousands of people - while New Year's Eve fireworks celebrations across the country have been cancelled.

The Czech Republic

The unvaccinated will not be allowed to enter many non-essential public places in the Czech Republic Credit: AP

On Thursday, the Czech government approved new Covid restrictions banning unvaccinated people from most non-essential indoor places from Monday amid a record surge in cases.

The unvaccinated will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus tests in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar facilities or use hotels.

Only people who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid will remain eligible. There are exceptions for teenagers aged 12 to 18, people whose medical condition doesn’t allow vaccination and people who have been partially vaccinated.

Covid rates vs vaccination rates across Europe

However, unvaccinated people visiting hospitals and nursing homes will be allowed in as long as they show a negative test.

Weekly mandatory testing for non-vaccinated employees of all companies has also been enforced by the government.

The government said the goal of the measures, in place until the end of February, was to encourage people to get jabbed, with Prime Minister Andrej Babis saying: “The situation is serious and we again urge everyone to get vaccinated."

The Czech daily count soared to 22,511 new cases on Tuesday, eclipsing the previous record set on January 7 by almost 5,000 and nearly 8,000 just over a week earlier.


Slovakia has re-implemented strict Covid measures Credit: AP

In Slovakia, those who have not been vaccinated will be banned from all non-essential shops and shopping malls from Monday.

They will not be allowed to attend any public events and gatherings and will be required to test twice a week to go to work.

But in the hardest hit parts of the country, restaurants, hotels, and fitness and wellness centres will be closed for everyone.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger called the measures “a lockdown for the unvaccinated” that should be in place for three weeks but the government "will react promptly" if the restrictions "are not effective".

He said some of the country's hospitals are already overwhelmed.


Covid misinformation has led to vaccination uptake being among the lowest in Europe in Ukraine, say doctors Credit: AP

Ukraine, which has one of Europe's lowest vaccination rates, is setting new records almost daily for Covid infections and deaths.

In an effort to motivate citizens to get vaccinated, President Zelenskyy promised every fully vaccinated Ukrainian a payment of 1,000 hryvnia (about £28) - around 5% of the average monthly wage.

The government has made it mandatory for teachers, doctors, government employees and other groups of workers to be fully vaccinated by December 1.

Passengers must also now show proof of vaccinations or negative test results when boarding planes, trains and long-distance buses.

Will the UK be next to bring back a lockdown? ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan explains why the answer is likely to be no

Only 21% of the country's 41 million people have been fully vaccinated.

Doctors complain that the country has been swept by a wave of false rumours about "implantation of chips" and that vaccines cause infertility and disease, while the black market has been thriving with fake Covid vaccination documents.

This is against a backdrop of an underfunded medical system, with one doctor explaining he has been forced to work 42 hours straight.

Dr Oleksandr Molchanov, an anesthesiologist-reanimatologist, told AP: "There are more and more patients, patients are in more severe conditions, we are working to our human limit."

"Every death leaves a mark on us," he added. "Some get new grey hair, some unstable mental conditions. It's hard every time. We are not robots, we are not made of steel."


Some Romanian morgues have become overrun amid a surge in Covid deaths. Credit: AP

Leaders implemented a curfew this month for those who do not have a Covid pass in Romania.

Anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination, recent recovery from the virus or a negative test must stay at home between the hours of 10pm and 5am.

Although infections have since dropped slightly, hospitals remain overwhelmed and medics are "exhausted financially, physically and psychologically," said doctor Catalin Cirstoiu.

In recent days, the bodies of those who died from Covid-19 lined a hallway at the main hospital in Bucharest because there was no more room in the morgue.

Part of a waiting room was transformed into an emergency ward, with the raising of a plastic sheet.

Dr Cirstoiu, the head of the Bucharest university emergency hospital, told the Associated Press: “A village vanishes daily in Romania. What about in a week or a month? A larger village? Or a city? Where do we stop?"

He insisted that “had 70% of the population been vaccinated, we wouldn’t have had a fourth wave."

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