Warsaw, Poland | Xinhua | Several European countries have seen record COVID infections in the post-Christmas days. During the holidays, surging numbers and ramped-up restrictions have led to dissatisfaction and criticism among experts and citizens.
CELEBRATION AND INFECTION
France has seen a sharp increase since Christmas, with 208,099 cases detected on Wednesday. This set a new record since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the incidence rate passed 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for the first time.
The same day on the other side of the English Channel, Britain reported a new record increase of 189,213 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number in the country to over 12 million.
In the warmer southern part of Europe, cases were surging too. New coronavirus cases in Greece on Thursday smashed a fourth record, reaching 35,580. Portugal recorded 30,829 cases on Friday, marking the third consecutive record of new daily infections.
In Germany, although the daily infection number fell slightly to 42,770 cases compared to last week, infections with the Omicron variant surged by 28 percent within one day, according to figures released on Thursday by the country’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring Netherlands, 14,868 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Thursday, compared to a daily average of 12,599 in the past seven days.
Despite relatively moderate daily infections, Poland has seen high numbers of deaths in the days after Christmas: a total of around 800. On Thursday, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called this situation “extremely sad.”
According to Polish epidemiologist Jaroslaw Drobnik, people in Poland act irresponsibly and carelessly during the holidays. The problem is not only the lack of vaccinations, he said, but also people ignoring basic social distancing and sanitary principles.
Poland will suffer from the effects of this behaviour until mid-January, when “it could be a firestorm,” Drobnik said.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that there will continue to be record numbers of COVID cases over the next few weeks. “I’m afraid we have to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up.”
RESTRICTION AND DISSATISFACTION
Amid surging cases and deaths after Christmas, European governments were scrambling to roll out additional restrictions to curb the trend. However, dissatisfaction is rising among experts, as new measures will take time to bring any benefits, and may not prevent a surge in cases over the next few weeks.
“Given the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its ability to, at least partially, evade immunity, it should be clear that a rapid response is needed. Instead, we have a policy based almost entirely on increasing vaccination rates that will take weeks to bring any benefit,” said Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“The sudden emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the run-up to Christmas has made new restrictions inevitable. Yet, the government’s emphasis remains on vaccinations,” social policy expert Stuart Wilks-Heeg from the University of Liverpool told Xinhua. “Even with new rules on mask-wearing in public places and COVID passports for large events, it is a race that the UK’s National Health Service is likely to lose.”
A study by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands released on Dec. 10 showed that confidence in the Dutch government’s approach to COVID-19 was at its lowest point since the start of the pandemic.
Based on a survey of 46,000 people, the study showed that 71 percent of participants believed that far too few measures were being taken to combat coronavirus.
Reasons for low confidence in the government mentioned by participants were that the government should have learned from the previous waves of infections with regard to the introduction of measures, and should have used the “corona pass” more widely.