Germany and Belgium appear poised to tighten their lockdowns and EU leaders have cancelled plans to meet in person as coronavirus infection rates continue to surge across Europe.
Ahead of a videoconference on Monday of Germany’s national and regional leaders, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases reported that case levels had passed a key marker.
The number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants hit 103.9 on Sunday, the institute said, above the 100 threshold at which it is deemed that Germany’s intensive care units will no longer be able to cope.
An in-person summit of EU heads of state and government scheduled to take place in Brussels on Thursday was cancelled on Sunday. The leaders will discuss the new wave of coronavirus cases via videoconference instead. A spokesman said the decision had been taken “following the surge of Covid-19 cases in member states”.
Politicians across Europe voiced concerns over the weekend about the ability of their health systems to deal with the seemingly inevitable third wave of infection.
Belgium’s health minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, spoke on Sunday of the need for additional measures despite the country having been in a tough second national lockdown since November.
“We have set ourselves a very important ambition by completely opening schools after Easter and catering from 1 May,” Vandenbroucke said. “With this increase in contamination, there is a risk of not achieving these objectives. It is not impossible. To ensure our goals, additional measures are needed.”
An average of 3,438 people a day tested positive in Belgium between 10 and 16 March, a 36% increase on the previous week.
Romania recorded its highest number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care on Sunday after reporting its highest number of infections for three months last week.
The prime minister, Florin Cîțu, nevertheless insisted that a strict national lockdown would not be introduced. “A lot of people are asking if we will end up in lockdown again. My very clear answer is no,” he said.
Turkey’s health ministry reported an infection rate of more than 251 cases per 100,000 in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, up 41% since last week.
The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced last week that newly-allowed dining in restaurants would continue “for some more time” despite the rising infection rate, but he has also warned that tougher measures could be brought back.
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, wrote in the To Vima newspaper on Sunday that he was prepared to requisition private-sector doctors to assist the public health system given the danger of hospitals becoming overwhelmed.
The government has already called on private-sector doctors to offer their services, but only 55 have volunteered of the 200 required. Mitsotakis said cooperation was always preferable as a first step and that obliging doctors to offer their services was not sufficient. “We have to inspire them to do it,” he wrote.
Despite the worrying medical situation, the government announced plans on Friday to reopen the Acropolis in Athens and other ancient sites. It remains determined to restart the tourism season by mid-May.
EU leaders are expected to discuss how the bloc’s vaccination strategy can be improved on Thursday, given the comparatively slow rollout. Member states had administered 10.4 doses per 100 residents as of Saturday, compared with 42.7 in the UK.
“European citizens are growing angry and upset at the fact that the vaccine rollout has not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated,” the EU commissioner for financial services, Mairead McGuinness, told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One.
“Frankly, none of us have had a great Covid. I think all of us should put our hands up and say we were not prepared for this global pandemic, we did not do our best at the beginning, but we are doing our best now to protect our citizens,” she said.
“That’s exactly where Europe is focused on … and once everyone is protected we are safe, so I think we all need to calm down.”