Almost three-quarters of EU countries are experiencing spiralling Covid infection rates, forcing vast swathes of the continent back into lockdown.
As a third wave sweeps across Europe, Britons were yesterday warned that foreign summer holidays are ‘extremely unlikely’.
In France alone, 21 million people awoke yesterday to a fresh draconian lockdown. Millions more in Italy, Germany, Poland and Greece face severe restrictions.
Of the 27 EU member states, 20 have seen a surge in Covid cases in recent weeks. Fifteen have warned of a dramatic rise in intensive care admissions due to the virus.
Despite a ban on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being largely lifted, there are fears that the suspension has slowed the EU’s already snail-paced rollout
A government scientist has warned foreign trips are ‘extremely unlikely’ this summer as Europe struggles to control a surge in coronavirus cases. Pictured: Benidorm today
Will Germany now buy Sputnik?
German police wielding water cannon, pepper spray and batons clashed with tens of thousands of lockdown protesters yesterday.
More than 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets of the central German city of Kassel in defiance of a court order banning protests.
A number of groups, including far-Right opponents of the government, had called for action in cities across the country amid growing anger over the bungled vaccine roll-out and lockdown restrictions.
Virus infections have skyrocketed in Germany in recent weeks, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning the country will have to apply an ’emergency brake’ and reverse some recent relaxations of restrictions. Only 4 per cent of the country has been fully immunised against the virus.
Germany’s national disease control centre said new infections were growing exponentially as the more contagious variant first detected in Britain has become dominant in the country. Yesterday, the Robert Koch Institute reported 16,033 new cases and registered 207 additional deaths, bringing the overall death toll to 74,565 in Germany.
Mrs Merkel will hold meetings with regional leaders tomorrow to thrash out new lockdown rules.
Health minister Jens Spahn said they must ‘be honest about the situation’ and lack of vaccines means they couldn’t stop the current wave. He hinted that Germany may strike out on its own and buy the Russian Sputnik jab separately from Brussels’s joint procurement scheme. The move is allowed under EU rules but signals growing friction within the bloc.
Mr Spahn said that EU vaccine shortfalls currently left lockdowns as the only defence against a new wave of the virus sweeping across Europe. ‘We are in the third wave of the pandemic, the numbers are rising, the proportion of mutations is large,’ he said.
‘There is not yet enough vaccine in Europe to stop the third wave through vaccination alone. Even if the deliveries from EU orders now come reliably, it will still take several weeks until the risk groups are fully vaccinated. Only then can we also talk about the broader opening of society.’
Spiegel magazine has branded the country’s vaccine chaos ‘The new German incompetence’.
In Berlin, some 1,800 police officers were also on standby for possible riots, but only about 500 protesters assembled at the city’s Brandenburg Gate. Meanwhile, around 1,000 citizens came together on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard to protest against the far-Right demonstration.
France recorded 35,000 new cases on Thursday, with intensive care occupancy up to 4,246 – higher than in November.
A quarter of those are in Paris where streets were eerily quiet this weekend, with non-essential shops forced to close for at least a month.
In Poland, most shops will be shut for the next three weeks along with hotels and cinemas.
Similar measures have been introduced in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
Streets in Rome and Milan, where shops, restaurants and schools have been forced to close, were empty but roads in cities in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands were crammed with anti-lockdown protests, some of which became violent.
In Yerres, a town just outside the French capital, the mayor said he had instructed businesses to remain open, defying the ‘totally incomprehensible’ restrictions.
Despite a ban on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being largely lifted, there are fears that the suspension has slowed the EU’s already snail-paced rollout.
The European Commission has urged countries to step up vaccinations, with figures showing governments sitting on a stockpile of millions of unused doses.
Europe has 9.7 per cent of the global population, but last week accounted for 39.5 per cent of Covid cases.
Estonia is currently the worst-hit country in the world with 1,130.12 cases per million people. By comparison, the UK has 79.55 per million.
New infections jumped 24 per cent across the bloc last week, with the Kent variant accounting for 75 per cent of new cases.
There are also concerns over pockets of the South African strain, with studies suggesting vaccines work less well against it.
The surge in cases has dampened hopes of British holidaymakers jetting to the continent this summer.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group which advises the Government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: ‘I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely.’
In Italy, where the R – or reproduction – rate has soared to 1.6, the target of vaccinating all over-80s by the end of the month looks likely to be missed.
New rules mean people in more than half of the country can only leave home for work, health or other essential reasons.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is now threatening that the country will adopt its own vaccine strategy, including assessing the Russian Sputnik jab, if the EU response does not improve.
In Spain, figures show tourist numbers fell 80 per cent to 19 million last year, the lowest since 1969.
The country was one of those pushing hard for an EU vaccination certificate in a bid to stop a second lost holiday season.
In Greece, a fifth of the workforce have livelihoods linked to tourism.
They had also been desperate to welcome back Britons over the summer, but the country has a rate of 220.1 daily cases per million.
Dr Mike Tildesley said there was a danger travellers could bring back new variants which are less susceptible to vaccines (pictured: A cyclist passes on the empty Grand Place of Lille, northern France today)
Chancellor’s billionaire father-in-law praises Modi despite row over vaccine
Rishi Sunak’s billionaire father-in-law has praised India’s Prime Minister as a ‘true leader’, despite concerns India is engaged in vaccine nationalism.
Last week the Indian Government is said to have blocked five million AstraZeneca jabs that were due to be delivered to the UK.
The delay will stall Britain’s vaccine rollout next month and prompted frenzied talks between Whitehall officials and Narendra Modi’s government. Mr Modi’s vaccine approach has won plaudits, however, from the British Chancellor’s father-in-law.
Narayana Murthy, who founded technology giant Infosys and whose daughter Akshana married Mr Sunak in 2009, told local reporters that India’s jab rollout was an example of good leadership.
After receiving his first dose of the vaccine in Delhi this month as part of India’s new vaccine plan, the 74-year-old said: ‘The Prime Minister demonstrated he is a true leader.’ His wife, Sudha Murthy, 70, received the jab at the same time in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Mr Murthy said after getting the jab: ‘Everything went off well for us.’ Both will return in 28 days for their second jab.
Since March 1, India has turbo-charged its vaccine rollout by offering the jab to all over 60s. The vaccines being used are the AstraZeneca jab, made in the Serum Institute of India, which has since delayed a delivery to the UK.
Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the institute, last week suggested exports to the UK of the jabs are being blocked by the Indian government. Downing Street did not deny the reports. ‘There is no vaccine shortage,’ Mr Poonawalla said. ‘There was never a commitment to supplying doses to the UK in any stipulated time. We just said we will offer our help.’
Asked when the UK would get its remaining doses, he said: ‘It is solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII.’
Last week, Matt Hancock told MPs a delay to the shipment of five million AstaZeneca doses from India played a key role in causing shortages that will slow the pace of the vaccination campaign in April.