Pandemic shutdowns extended as EU battles coronavirus | Coronavirus and Covid-19 - latest news about COVID-19 | DW | 13.01.2021
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Coronavirus

Pandemic shutdowns extended as EU battles coronavirus

Many EU countries have introduced or extended shutdowns. There seems to be no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic. Here's a roundup of measures.

A needle and the EU flag

Vaccines are being distributed across the European Union, but the pandemic is raging

Germany's restrictions were originally scheduled to last through Christmas. But that proved optimistic. As cases rose, the ""shutdown tightened. Nonessential shops will remain shut until at least the end of January. Many schools and kindergartens are closed. On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would face "eight to 10 very tough weeks" ahead and warned that the variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain could hit Germany hard. Karl Lauterbach, the Social Democrats' health spokesperson in the Bundestag, has set a seven-day rate of 25 infections per 100,000 people as a target. Right now, the number is 165.

Despite a tough shutdown across the border in the Netherlands, the number of cases continues to rise. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the seven-day infection rate at the end of December was 760 per 100,000 people. On Monday, authorities decided to keep stores and schools closed for another three weeks. Strict restrictions that were introduced in December could be tightened: "If the slight decline does not continue and, at the same time, the English mutation starts to take over, then we are even more likely to think about stricter measures," the Dutch virologist Menno de Jong told the broadcaster AT5. Last week, at least 50 people had been identified as infected with the variant.

Tough restrictions have also been introduced in Austria, with a third shutdown implemented on December 26. Only essential stores are open, and people have been told to reduce social contact. The authorities hope to bring the rate of infection to below 100 per 100,000 people; it currently stands at 163 per 100,000. So far, a significant reduction has not been achieved. Children were scheduled to return to school on January 18, but at the moment it seems that the shutdown will be extended. The daily newspaper Österreich reported that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has spoken in favor of extending the shutdown at least by one week and keeping schools closed until at least mid-February.

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Italy, Ireland, Sweden

In 2020, Italy was the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe. The country was shut down for months. Tough measures were once again introduced in winter, and now the authorities are paying particular attention to regions where infections are growing. Regions where the seven-day rate of infections exceeds 250 per 100,000 people are declared "red zones," and stores, bars and schools are closed. The average rate of infections across the country is currently 203 per 100,000, but there is a glimmer of hope because more than 800,000 people have already been vaccinated. Pope Francis has called for everybody to be vaccinated.

The variant identified in Britain has accelerated Ireland's infection rate to 1,291 per 100,000 people. Some counties, such as Monaghan and Louth, have double that rate. At the end of 2020, Premier Micheal Martin announced a shutdown of at least a month, with all nonessential businesses closed and people not allowed to visit the homes of others. People are still allowed to exercise, but only outside and within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius of their homes. Weddings are still permitted, but the number of people attending is restricted to six. A maximum of 10 people are allowed to attend funerals.

Sweden has been the subject of much debate after the government chose minimal measures to combat the pandemic in 2020. Though many EU governments decided to bring public life to a standstill, Sweden's took a less-stringent approach. The number of cases soared. The infection rate is currently 515 per 100,000 people. Though the authorities are not talking of a shutdown, they could order the closure of shopping malls and gyms under a law approved on Friday to give the government the power to implement emergency measures.

This article has been adapted from German.

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