Europe Banks on Vaccines as Countries Push Ahead With Reopening
(Bloomberg) -- European governments are pushing ahead with reopening their economies, banking on a mix of vaccinations, hygiene guidelines and common sense to let life return toward normal amid a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Despite concerns about the rapid spread of the delta variant, officials are bowing to public frustration and pleas from businesses, and moving further away from the strict lockdowns of 2020. The view, summed up by a French minister, is that it’s time to “live with the virus.”
In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to confirm that mandatory curbs will end as planned on July 19, including the legal requirement to wear masks in indoor settings.
But Johnson’s announcement will include a cautionary note, warning of a surge in virus cases and advising people to act sensibly. He’s counting on that, along with the country’s vaccination rollout, to limit the spread of the disease. More than half of the U.K. population is fully vaccinated, compared with an average of 40% among EU countries.
“Vaccines are fantastic but you have to give them time to work,” Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College, said on BBC radio. “In the meantime keeping up all those measures which we’ve learned do reduce transmission is, to me, really vital.”
One trend in the latest figures is that the increase in cases is being linked to large social gatherings of mainly younger non-vaccinated adults.
That means while governments are ruling out another round of lockdowns, a number of countries are being forced to reintroduce, or at least consider, other curbs.
Portugal has broadened its nighttime curfew to more municipalities. The limits already apply in Lisbon and some locations in the southern Algarve region that are popular with tourists. France could reintroduce limits on the number of people allowed in bars, restaurants and other venues, junior minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said on Europe 1 radio Sunday.
“We must live with the virus, and this means we don’t close everything again and positions aren’t as hard as they used to be, because we have the vaccine,” Beaune said.
President Emmanuel Macron will make a televised address later on Monday, when he’s expected to announce measures including mandatory vaccination for health care workers, as well as the new measures flagged by Beaune.
Greece’s government is expected to issue an update on its virus measures early this week, which may include new restrictions after a jump in cases.
In Cyprus, which is now one of Europe’s virus hotspots, authorities have set a limit of 50% capacity at indoor venues such as theaters and cinemas. From July 21, the capacity can increase to 75% as long as patrons are fully vaccinated or were infected with Covid-19 in last six months.
Italy is also considering its options, and could raise its risk level to “yellow” from “white” if current trends continue, according to local media, which could lead to tougher restrictions in bars and restaurants.
One consistent amid the array of rules is the plea from governments to get vaccinated amid signs that the inoculation drive is slowing.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, warned Monday that the experience of some of Germany’s neighbors shows that infections can “quickly explode again.”
“Of course vaccination has changed the overall picture and facilitated significant progress but we’re not yet adequately equipped if the number of cases really rises strongly again,” Seibert said at a regular news conference in Berlin.
Health Minister Jens Spahn pointed out that vaccine rates have fallen back to the lowest since February and renewed his call for citizens to get themselves inoculated.
Johnson will make a similar plea when he addresses the U.K.
“Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear,” Johnson will say, according to a statement from his office. “Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress.”
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