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COVID-19

What are the main measures being taken across Europe to fight coronavirus pandemic?

Quarantine, schools, shops and borders closed, gatherings banned, here are the main measures that have been taken so far in Europe to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

What are the main measures being taken across Europe to fight coronavirus pandemic?

The World Health Organization warned Friday that Europe was now the “epicentre” for the global coronavirus pandemic and reporting more daily cases than China did at the height of its outbreak. 

“Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a virtual press conference, describing the more than 5,000 deaths worldwide as “a tragic milestone”.

Confinement

Italy's population of 60 million has to stay at home until April 3, but can go out to work, for health reasons or to buy food.

In Spain, four parts of the northeastern region of Catalonia have been quarantined, as have two communes in the Austrian region of Tyrol.

Austrians returning from Italy will be confined.

People returning from the main coronavirus hotspots must stay at home for two weeks in Croatia, Latvia, Russia and Slovakia.

In Norway, all people returning from abroad will be quarantined and some cities have banned people from disembarking from cruise ships, a measure also taken by Portugal and Spain.

In Luxembourg and Portugal visits to retirement homes are banned, while in Belgium they are either prohibited or strictly limited. They are restricted in Sweden. 

In France visits are suspended in establishments housing elderly and dependent people.

Restaurants and shops closed

In Italy only essential shops selling foodstuffs or healthcare items are allowed to open.

Austria has decided to close non-essential shops from Monday and to close cafes and restaurants at 3:00 pm.

Bulgaria has closed non-essential shops.

In Belgium, nightclubs, cafes and restaurants will be closed until April 3. Shops will be closed at the weekend, except for grocers and chemists

In the Czech Republic, restaurants must close between 8:00 pm and 6:00 am.

Madrid authorities have ordered bars and restaurants to close their outside areas.

Borders controlled or closed

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have announced the almost total closure of their borders to foreigners, with Slovakia making an exception for Poles.

Ukraine plans to close its borders to foreigners for at least two weeks.

Poland has imposed health checks at all it borders.

Austria has suspended rail links, and almost entirely closed its border with Italy, requiring medical certificates and health checks from people seeking entry. It has also suspended air links with France, Spain and 
Switzerland.

Slovenia has also set up health vetting measures at the border with Italy.

Germany has strengthened checks at the French border.

Schools closed

Schools and universities are closed in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Ukraine.

Pupils will also stay at home next week in Belgium, Croatia, France, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, and in most German regions.

Gatherings banned

In Belgium, Cyprus and Italy all gatherings have been banned.

The Czech Republic has banned meetings of more than 30 people.

Denmark and France are to drop the threshold to 100 people.

Iceland, from midnight on Sunday, and the Netherlands and Switzerland have outlawed gatherings of more than 100 people as have Austria, Hungary and Romania for indoor meetings, with 500 for those outdoors.

Finland and Sweden have set the bar at 500 people.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on organisers to cancel non essential events gathering less than 1,000 people, a threshold also in force in Denmark, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland.

Moscow has banned meetings of more than 5,000 people.

Transport disrupted

Rome's second airport, Ciampino, is to close from Friday evening, while Fiumicino, which handles international flights, is to close one of its three terminals from March 17.

In Slovakia all international airports are closed.

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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