Denmark and Austria on Wednesday became the latest countries to ease COVID-19 restrictions, following similar moves by Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands, while other countries in Europe planned new measures to battle record numbers of infections.
The European region as a whole no longer accounts for half or more than half of global deaths and infections according to Reuters COVID-19 data, but the numbers remain high, with particular concern in countries with lower vaccination rates.
Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech republic, Bulgaria and Romania all reported record daily infection totals on Wednesday and the German parliament prepared to debate proposals to either require or robustly encourage residents to be vaccinated.
Poland will move older school students to remote learning from Thursday and Sweden said it would extend its current pandemic measures by another two weeks after seeing the Omicron variant spreading at record speed.
Austria, which had imposed a lockdown on those unvaccinated, said that was no longer justifiable given there were now fewer people in hospital due to COVID-19, although the unvaccinated would still be barred from a range of leisure activities.
With more than 10 million new cases, infections in Europe rose 13% last week compared to the one before, according to data from the World Health Organization, with France, Italy and Germany logging the highest numbers.
Weekly deaths in the region, however, decreased by 5%.
Denmark aims to scrap all remaining domestic COVID-19 restrictions next week. If the move gets parliamentary approval, Danish nightclubs will be able to reopen, while restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol after 10 pm, and customers will not need to present vaccine passes upon entry.
The moves follow similar announcements in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands made in the past week. Among reasons given were case numbers dropping below peaks and lower numbers of hospitalisations than feared.
While Danish infections and hospitalisation numbers have hovered around record highs over the past week, authorities have said there is no longer a correlation between increasing infections and hospitalisations.
Also, health authorities estimate between 30-40% of those currently in hospital with a positive coronavirus test are there for other reasons than COVID-19.
The World Health Organization said on Jan. 12 that Omicron causes less serious illness than earlier variants of the coronavirus but that it remained a “dangerous virus”, especially for the unvaccinated.
Eastern Europe has some of the continent’s lowest vaccination rates, particularly Romania and Bulgaria, and saw some of the highest COVID-related death rates towards the end of 2021.
File photo by EPA-EFE/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU