Europe resists relaxing measures for fear of a third wave

Restrictions have made it possible to exceed the peak of cases in many countries

The confinements imposed in Europe in the face of the onslaught of the second wave of the coronavirus have allowed many countries to have already passed the peak of infections. Countries such as France or the United Kingdom have bent the curve in November, while others such as the Czech Republic or Belgium already succeeded in late October after imposing harsh restrictions as their infections were doubling in a matter of days. But having left the peak behind does not mean that the situation is controlled, far from it. New hospital admissions have not started to fall in countries like Italy or Germany and deaths will still take weeks to do so: given how the disease evolves, its curve is the last to flatten. The latest weekly report from the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) indicates that the average cumulative incidence on November 15 was 608 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, when above 60 transmission is already considered high.

The data have improved in recent days, judging by the decreasing incidences in many countries, but the decline is slow and the ECDC is warning that restrictions should not be relaxed in the face of the Christmas holidays. This body echoes the debate that exists in many European countries about the possibility of softening some measures so that families can reunite and economic sectors badly hit by the pandemic can recover part of their business. In a report published this week, he draws up projections that estimate the effect that this relaxation would have and concludes that, if the measures currently in force were repealed on December 21, the third wave would reach the health system again very quickly. “We anticipate that the increase in hospitalization due to covid-19 could occur in the first week of January.” But if they softened earlier, on December 7, “the associated increase could start before December 24”.

With the current measures, continues the agency, more than half of the Member States will see a reduction of more than 50% in their daily number of confirmed cases “and the subsequent reduction in hospital demand and deaths,” it adds. “It is expected that more than two-thirds of them experience some decline” if the current restrictions are maintained, which for the report are those that were in effect on November 10.

Many governments have not yet decided how they will manage Christmas. “We must do everything possible to avoid a third wave and a third lockdown,” French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday. France is going to ease the confinement that has been in place since October 30 with a progressive reopening schedule. Non-essential shops (bookstores, clothing stores) reopen on Saturday; museums and theaters on December 15, but bars and restaurants will remain inactive until January 20.

Germany is also proceeding with caution, although this Wednesday it announced some relaxation in the measures for the holidays. As in the maximum of five people that goes into effect on Tuesday, and that will be increased to ten by Christmas. The WHO envoy for covid-19 in Europe, David Nabarro, expressed that concern on Sunday in an interview with Swiss media: “Now we are with the second wave. Yes [los países europeos] they do not build the necessary infrastructure, we will have a third at the beginning of next year ”. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, has also warned: “Relaxing the measures is a third wave risk.”

Belgium is one of the countries where the increase in cases in October and the decrease, almost at the same rate, can be seen most clearly from the end of that month. Its peak occurred on October 29 and since then the drop has been approximately 80%. The Minister of Health, Frank Vandenbroucke, this Wednesday cooled expectations of lack of refinement in one of the countries with the most restrictions: “It will probably be very difficult to ease the measures quickly.” Belgium has closed bars, restaurants and non-essential shops, a curfew at 10pm and only allows one contact outside the family environment. Teleworking is compulsory and no more than four people can meet in the street. The festivities are just around the corner: San Nicolás is on December 6.

The countries where infections grew a lot are those that now see the greatest decline. It also occurs in France, which peaked on November 8 and since then daily infections have fallen by approximately 70%. In contrast, Italy, where the maximum number of cases was registered on November 17, is barely down 10%. The Italian government plans to approve a new decree on December 4, which will establish what can be done at Christmas and probably relax measures somewhat. Something similar happens with Germany, where it cannot even be said that it has passed the peak, as it appears to still be on a plateau since mid-November. Ireland is another of the countries where confinement – it was the first country to decree it in the second wave – has had the greatest effect on the figures: since the peak, on October 22, cases have fallen by 70%. Ireland will announce its plan for Christmas this week. His spokesman advanced this Wednesday that the restrictions will be relaxed, but he announced that another confinement, shorter than the previous one, may be necessary in January.

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