How quickly things change. Just a month ago many EU countries were being praised for keeping some Covid restrictions in place, in many cases operating vaccine passport systems. By contrast, Britain was being attacked for removing most Covid restrictions in July. The UK suffering elevated infection rates ever since, leading to predictions that we could be back in lockdown by Christmas. Now, many EU governments are panicking as infection rates soar — and protesters have taken to the streets to oppose new lockdowns and, in the case of Austria, compulsory vaccinations from next February. What is the situation in the worst-affected countries?
Current number of people recorded as infected: 144,442 — up from 45,308 at the beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 64.4 per cent
Covid death rate per million: 1,327
Austria has just reported the highest number of infections at any point during the pandemic. Last Monday, a lockdown for the unvaccinated was brought in, followed by a full lockdown for everyone taking effect from today. That, and government proposals to make vaccination compulsory from February, under pain of a €3,600 fine for refusal, brought 40,000 people onto the streets of Vienna and resulted in three arrests as protesters set fire to a police car with an officer inside.
Current number infected: 288,571 — up from 125,162 at beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 74.3 per cent
Covid death rate per million: 2,279
A reported 35,000 people took to the streets in Brussels to protest at new vaccination passport scheme which will restrict access to bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Glass was smashed in the European Commission building and police have used water cannons.
Current number infected: 356,859 — up from 133,313 at beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 82.7 per cent among the over 12s (no figure published for entire population)
Covid death rate per million: 1,103
A new three-week partial lockdown and vaccine passports system has led to mass protests. In Rotterdam police opened fire on protesters and made 51 arrests. Police also responded to disorder in the Hague where 19 people were arrested.
Current number infected: 148,760 — up from 82,788 at beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 73.0 per cent
Covid death rate per million: 2,207
In Rome, a crowd stormed the headquarters of a trade union that has supported government plans for a vaccination passport scheme. Protests have also been reported from Trieste, where protesters stormed a hospital.
Current numbers infected: 605,488 — up from 236,199 at beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 67.4 per cent
Covid death rate per million: 1,184
A vaccination passport scheme is now being introduced. The government is reported to have been discussing compulsory vaccination over the weekend.
Current numbers infected: 228,322 — up from 109,234 at beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 69 per cent
Covid death rate per million: 1,809
France has not yet seen quite the same surge in cases as have other EU countries — although they have risen sharply this month, they remain relatively low per head of population. President Macron has so far rejected a new national lockdown and said that there would be no further restrictions. A vaccination passport system remains in place. No new protests have been reported in France but riots in the overseas territory of Guadeloupe led to Macron sending in special forces.
Current numbers infected: 1.61 million — up from 1.56 million at beginning of the month
Vaccination rate: 67.7 per cent
Covid death rate per million: 2,105
Infections numbers have been fairly stable since the summer. A greater level of testing also inflates numbers relative to many other countries. Most Covid restrictions were lifted in July and have not been reimposed in spite of stubbornly high cases. The Prime Minister has rejected the case for reimposition of rules regarding mask-wearing and social distancing but has not ruled out tightening of rules — even lockdown — in future. There is no vaccination passport system in England, although Scotland and Wales operate such systems. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out compulsory vaccination.