Among voters who are fed up with being locked in on one side and mutant coronaviruses rampaging on the other, European governments are reluctant over restrictions and reopening – even announcing both at the same time – while seeking solutions to the pandemic and – also at the same time – search for atoning goats if the solutions fail.
Disparities and contradictions have emerged in the two main strategies to fight the pandemic: vaccination and containment. The first aims to quickly protect the most vulnerable, to reduce hospitalizations and deaths. The second restricts circulation – mainly younger people – to stop transmission and try to slow the emergence of variants, while gaining time to immunize a larger part of the population.
On the anti-contagion side, “seeing the crest of the third wave rise” in front of you (as Ursula von der Leyen, the chief executive of the European Union, said last week), with each new tightening or restrictions extend, protests arise in which protesters – screaming clusters – increase the risk of transmission.
Over the past week, the number of new cases of Covid-19 in Europe has increased by 11%, slightly less than the 13% on average of the 27 members of the EU. It was the fourth consecutive week of increasing contagion on the continent, a streak drawn mainly by the B.117 variant, first identified in the UK.
Of the five largest European countries, the UK is the only one to have recorded significant drops in the number of new cases – Spain, which was also on the decline, is starting to see its curve take a turn.
This apparent British success is essentially a positive side effect of the disaster: plagued by B.117, which is more contagious and deadly, the country had to put in place severe containment at the beginning of the year to relieve the hospitals already in ruined.
In the indicator developed by the University of Oxford, which measures the rigor and scope of the measures imposed, the United Kingdom leads the European countries. On a scale of 0 to 100, it exceeds 85 points, while Germany and Italy are around 80 and France and Spain are below 75.
Government orders, however, don’t mean much if not carried out, and this time the British appear to have followed the guidelines – unlike in the most turbulent months of 2020.
Mobility fell 37% below the pre-pandemic period, double that obtained in Germany or Spain and 50% more than in France or Italy.
The British began a “slow, gradual and safe” withdrawal from the restrictions two weeks ago, with the reopening of schools, after controlling – at least for now – their variant. On the continent, however, B.117 has already conquered more than half of the countries of Europe and dominates among others Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
As British students return to class, Italians are returning home to almost every region, and some Germans may follow suit.
On Monday (22), German Prime Minister Angela Merkel would discuss with the governors of the 16 states the relaxation of the restrictions put in place on December 16. Instead, they have suspended new reopening, such as bars, restaurants and cultural spaces.
Homework, which would return at the end of March, has been extended until April 18. Areas of accelerated contagion may even have to withdraw and close stores and schools.
In France, which sees its hospitals reaching saturation level, the government announced in the same press release easing – the start of the curfew has been postponed from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. – and a tightening: a “lockout for adults ”in Paris and in 15 other French departments.
Residents of these areas can leave home for as long as they like, as many times as they like, but they should not be more than 10 km from their home. Schools, hairdressers, bookstores and music stores will remain open.
“The rules are clear and are based on common sense, not infantilization,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said, announcing his unrestricted restrictions – “measures to stop the virus without imprisoning us”.
If in France the same national government opens and closes, in Spain the contradiction is between the autonomous regions.
In Catalonia, universities canceled face-to-face classes on the 8th; in Valencia, bars and restaurants have opened with 100% of the capacity on the terraces and 30% in the interior spaces.
In La Rioja, the allowed indoor capacity is 50% and the city has also opened public swimming pools. In Galicia, over the past week, four municipalities have been confined to the maximum —Soutomaior, Boborás, Pobra de Brollón and Mezquita – and two have been distrusted —Coruña and Pontevedra.
In Italy, where the government has recently taken over and therefore cannot bear the burden of a previous containment, control measures have been stricter.
Most of the country saw their rules toughened on the 15th, and the whole country will be entering the red zone on Easter: leaving home on those days, just for essential reasons.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi has also closed schools in more than half of Italy, including Rome, Milan and Venice, sparking protests from teachers, parents and students.
Still on his honeymoon with the Italians, he said he was aware that “the measures will have consequences on the education of children, the economy and our psychological state as a whole”, but they were essential.
On the vaccination flank, Europe continues to evolve slowly, due to various obstacles such as the lack of organization, structure, staff and vaccinators.
Among the four largest countries in the EU, Italy is the only one to have used all the doses it has received so far, according to the ECDC (European Center for Disease Control). Germany, France and Spain still have a quarter of their light bulbs in refrigerators.
The governments of the four countries have restricted the use of vaccines produced by AstraZeneca, despite the approval of the EU regulatory agency and the recommendation to apply it to all adults.
Frustrated by the slowness of their vaccination campaigns, when the UK, which started a month earlier, has already administered the first dose to half of the adult population, the European Union has singled out its neighbor the last week.
He complained that he did not reciprocate in the sale of vaccines and threatened to block exports to his former partner.
Boris Johnson felt the blow. This Monday, it was he who gave speeches in anticipation of a third wave and the return of the scapegoat costume to the EU.
“We have learned from previous experience that when a wave hits our friends it also hits our beaches,” he told reporters in Lancashire, north-west England.