Europe’s fight against the coronavirus entered a dangerous new phase this week as politicians urged tightening lockdown measures across the continent, even after a weekend of unrest amid warnings of “civil war” chaos in the Netherlands and the Netherlands brought to Denmark.
France will decide whether a third national lockdown should come this week as Prime Minister Jean Castex has described the situation there as “worrying”. Italy’s top paramedic is also calling for a month-long national lockdown.
This is despite John Jorritsma, Mayor of Eindhoven, who was hit by the worst unrest in nearly four decades over the weekend and warned “we are on the way to civil war” after new nationwide curfews sparked public outcry.
In the meantime, it is hoped vaccines could offer a quick way out of the crisis – almost faded after the French Pasteur Institute was forced to scrap a bump it developed with US drug maker Merck because it wasn’t working .
The news came when AstraZeneca – the sting of which has not yet been approved by EU regulators – announced that vaccine supplies to the continent had dropped up to 60 percent due to supply chain issues believed to be due to underproduction at a factory should be reduced in Belgium.
The head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, had a call to the company on Monday to remind her of her commitments, but EU President Charles Michel admitted that 70 percent of the European population had been vaccinated – the number which is theoretically necessary to ensure herd immunity – by the end of summer it will be “difficult” as planned.
Despite the violence, EU leaders this week pushed for restrictions to be tightened further. France and Italy both faced the prospect of further national shutdowns, and the bloc recommended that all non-essential travel to sources of infection be suspended
Vaccine rollouts in Europe were already among the slowest in the world, but were hit by more problems when the French Pasteur Institute mothballed its sting on Monday and AstraZeneca cut supplies to the block by 60 percent due to “supply problems”.
John Jorritsma, Mayor of Eindhoven, who saw anti-lockdown riots over the weekend, said the country was “on the way to civil war” as unrest over increasingly stringent Covid lockdown measures mount
In other developments on the continent …
- The Dutch police warned of “days or weeks of unrest” following new curfews imposed on the country for the first time since its occupation by the Nazis
- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that rioters will be treated like “criminals” while insisting that “99 percent” of the country support curfew
- The EU recommended banning travel to dozens of regions considered the continent’s sources of infection, including locations in Italy, Germany, France and Spain
- Italy and the European Union have proposed suing AstraZeneca for breach of contract after the company announced it would not meet its vaccine quota
- Madrid announced their own curfew as the number of cases in Spain continued to rise. Valencia banned groups of more than two people from meeting outside
- Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa stepped down amid the pandemic to vote in local elections in his home region of Catalonia
Europe, initially praised for its tough response to Covid after most countries were completely locked down in March last year, has been hit by a second wave that a mixture of measures has largely left out of control.
These efforts have been hampered by the emergence of new and potentially more contagious variants of the virus, including in the UK, which is now completely banned again.
While many countries have announced new measures to reduce infections, case numbers in countries like France, Italy and Germany have remained stubbornly high, causing hospitals to run out of space.
In Spain and Portugal, infections have risen to record levels after a brief slump over the Christmas period, which has put the healthcare sector under pressure.
In the Netherlands, which had become one of the hardest hit countries in Europe with its light-touch lockdown approach, cases fell dramatically in January but are still well above the summer lows.
As a result, and fears the UK variant could spike cases, new measures were announced last week to lower the toll, including a 9:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. curfew – the first in the country since World War II.
Protests in 10 cities on Sunday turned violent as protesters fought police, looted shops and destroyed police stations.
Eindhoven authorities announced Monday that 62 people have been arrested and others are wanted, while Amsterdam officials said 192 had been arrested.
“It is unacceptable,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “It has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and this is how we will deal with it.”
“My city is crying and so am I,” said the mayor of Eindhoven, John Jorritsma, to the media on Sunday evening. In an emotionally impromptu press conference, he called the rioters “the dregs of the earth” and added: “I fear that if we continue down this path we are on the way to civil war.”
Hubert Bruls, mayor of the city of Nijmegen and chairman of a group of local security organizations, added: “These demonstrations are being kidnapped by people who only want one thing, namely rioting.”
In France, where fears about the British variant are also widespread, new border controls came into force on Sunday amid fears that a third nationwide lockdown would be due later this week.
A shop near the train station in Eindhoven was damaged after a rally by several hundred people against the corona policy
The launch of vaccines in the EU is also in disarray after the French Pasteur Institute admitted its vaccine wasn’t working and scrapped the program, despite AstraZeneca saying it needed to cut supplies to the EU by 60 percent
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France 3 that “all scenarios are on the table” and that “the next few days will be decisive”.
Some doctors have since said that lockdown was all but inevitable.
“We are approaching a lockdown,” said Denis Malvy, a member of the French Science Council and head of the infectious diseases department at a Bordeaux hospital.
In Italy, Professor Walter Ricciardi – advisor to the Minister of Health – used an appearance on the radio to call for another four-week national shutdown. He said it was necessary to delete cases.
Warning that Italy’s current measures will be enough to cut, but not reduce, the number of cases, he added: “We need a real three or four week embargo to then resume tracking and testing. Only in this way can we restore normality that we lack. ‘
In the meantime, the EU recommended that all travel to areas known as foci of infection with 500 or more cases per 100,000 people be cut and should publish a map showing where they are later this week.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said between 10 and 20 EU countries would consider all or part of their territory as a high-infection zone if the map were released today.
‘We also think it’s necessary for important travelers arriving from there [those] Areas that must be tested and quarantined prior to departure, provided that these measures do not have a disproportionate impact on the performance of their essential function, ”said Reynders.
Europe remains the hardest hit region in the world with coronavirus as it has suffered both more cases and more deaths than any other continent.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 29 million cases of the virus have been recorded in Europe and 28.6 million in North America – the second worst.
There are now a total of 660,000 deaths in Europe – well above second place in North America with 600,000.
Europe remains the most virus-hit continent in the world. Since the pandemic started, 29 million cases and 660,000 people have died, worse than in any other region (file picture).