Protesters have rioted in European cities over the imposition of fresh curbs as the continent again becomes a Covid-19 epicentre, facing a dramatic surge in cases. That has led to a return of restrictions that had been slowly eased back as people geared for the Christmas season, fuelling anger on the streets amid fresh mask mandates and tightening of vaccination rules.
Where Have Violent Protests Occurred In Europe?
Fresh curbs have been brought back across countries in Europe, which has seen a sustained increase in Covid-19 cases since mid-September, just at a time when the continent was gearing up to emerge out of the shadows of the pandemic and embrace greater normalcy.
The Netherlands, where protesters have rioted and clashed with police in cities like The Hague and Rotterdam, had imposed a three-week partial lockdown in the middle of November after witnessing a record spike in cases. Bars and restaurants have had restrictions imposed on their operating hours while spectators have again been barred from sporting events.
Unruly protests were also reported in the Belgian capital of Brussels, where tens of thousands of people took part in a march against anti-Covid measures. Reports said that the protesters are demanding a roll-back in the system of Covid passes, which bars unvaccinated people from accessing restaurants and bars and other public spaces, even as mask rules have been tightened.
Large protests have also taken place in Austria, Croatia and Italy over a return of Covid curbs. Austrians have taken to the streets after the government announced a new national lockdown and said it plans to make vaccines compulsory for all starting February 2022, the first European country to bring in a legal requirement for vaccinating its population. Austria, too, is going under a 20-day nationwide lockdown.
What Is The Covid-19 Situation In Europe?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had said in early November that Europe is once again “at the epicentre" of the Covid pandemic and that the continent could see half a million more deaths before the next summer unless urgent steps were taken.
“Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region," BBC quoted WHO regional director Dr Hans Kluge as saying. He added that to combat the fresh surge, the stress once again needs to be on getting as many people as possible vaccinated, return to mask-wearing and using Covid passes.
The continent has so far seen more than 71.5 million cases and close to 1.4 million deaths from Covid. European countries cumulatively recorded 7.95 million new cases in the month till November 20 whereas total cases added in the month till October 20 numbered 4.53 million.
According to Our World In Data, the continent recorded 100,000 more deaths in the month till November 20 as against 70,000 deaths in the month prior to that.
What’s Behind The Surge In Covid Cases Across Europe?
Dr Kluge said that the advent of winter season, insufficient vaccine coverage and the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant — first reported in India in late 2020 — were behind the rapid surge in cases across Europe. Reports say that the Delta variant has been found to be up to three times more infectious than the original strain and is also associated with immune escape, which means that vaccinated people, too, can catch the disease again, although they mostly display only mild symptoms or remain asymptomatic.
Experts seeking to explain the fresh wave of cases in Europe are also probing factors like waning immunity from vaccines and the easing of precautions for masking and social distancing. The effectiveness of vaccines being used in Europe is also under the scanner amid the introduction of booster shots by countries.
A report also suggested the fact that European countries had introduced more stringent restrictions than many other jurisdictions could mean that the rise in cases is due to fewer unvaccinated people having been exposed to the virus in the first place who began contracting the disease as things opened up.
But the slow pace of vaccinations and the reluctance among some people to opt for a shot are being seen as the primary factor behind the Covid surge.
Reports said in the beginning of November that while about 80 per cent of eligible people in Spain had received both shots of a Covid vaccine, the proportion was about 66 per cent in Germany and lower still in Russia — where only 32 per cent of people had been fully vaccinated by October 2021 — and some Eastern European countries.
Dr Kluge, therefore, called for countries to step up on their vaccination drives and reintroduce basic precautionary measures to check the rise in cases.