Coronavirus infections have once again broken records in nations across Europe, prompting new curbs on movement and making health experts think again about booster vaccination shots.
Slovakia’s government followed the example of neighbouring Austria on Wednesday and ordered a two-week lockdown to quell the world’s fastest rise in Covid-19 cases as the number of people in hospital reached a critical level in a nation where vaccination levels remain low.
Poland has said it will have to tighten restrictions if it does not see daily case numbers decreasing in the near future, and the Netherlands will announce new measures on Friday.
France is also expected to announce new containment measures but said it did not plan a new lockdown like some other European Union countries.
Meanwhile, Denmark’s government has proposed reintroducing mandatory face mask usage on public transport, in shops and in the healthcare sector.
Infections hit record highs
The Czech Republic reported its highest daily rise in infections, with cases surpassing 25,000 for the first time.
The government is looking to institute mandatory vaccines for people over 60 and some professions, like healthcare workers.
The Netherlands recorded more than 23,700 coronavirus infections in 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Hungary reported a record 12,637 new daily Covid-19 cases.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which opposes further lockdowns for fear of stifling the economy, launched a vaccination campaign this week, offering shots without prior registration.
But the idea of mandatory vaccinations has also raised concerns among Hungarians.
Italy on Wednesday also tightened the screws on people still unwilling to take a Covid-19 vaccination, sharply restricting access to an array of services and making vaccines mandatory for a wider group of public sector workers.
Authorities in Russia, where daily coronavirus-related deaths are at near record highs, said they were scouring social networks and media websites to find people spreading false claims about the dangers of vaccination, the latest in a series of measures to invigorate sluggish inoculation rates.
Russia also announced progress in its Sputnik suite of vaccines, with a new version aimed at children and a nasal spray.
Many German regions have already started to impose tighter rules amid the country’s worst Covid-19 surge yet as the curtain comes down on the Angela Merkel era, including demanding that vaccinated people show a negative test to attend indoor events.
Outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday that by the end of the winter almost everyone in Germany would be “vaccinated, recovered or dead”.
Extra push for vaccine boosters
Amid the latest surge in cases, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU public health agency, recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40.
The announcement has been a major shift from its previous guidance which suggested the extra doses should be considered for older frail people and those with weakened immune systems.
“Available evidence emerging from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and severe disease following a booster dose in all age groups in the short term,” the ECDC said in a report published on Wednesday.
Many EU countries have already begun giving booster doses to their populations but are using different criteria to make priorities and different intervals between the first shots and boosters.
ECDC head Andrea Ammon said boosters would increase protection against infection caused by waning immunity and “could potentially reduce the transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalisations and deaths”.
She advised countries with low levels of vaccination to speed up their rollouts and warned of high risks of a further spike in deaths and hospitalisations in Europe in December and January if the recommended measures are not introduced.
WHO warns of ‘false sense of security’
Those recommendations came as World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledging that Europe was again at the epicentre of the pandemic, warned against a “false sense of security” over the protection offered by vaccines.
“No country is out of the woods,” he told reporters, adding that he hoped a consensus could be found at a World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting next week for an IP waiver for pandemic vaccines, already supported by more than 100 countries.
Sweden would begin gradually rolling out boosters to all adults, government and health officials said.
Booster shots of mRNA vaccine have been offered to people aged 65 or above, with an eye to eventually extending the shots to other groups.
“We are faced with an uncertain winter,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference.
“You can contribute by staying home if you’re sick or by getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, and taking your booster when you’re offered it.”