Europeans introduce Covid green passes amid ‘flashing red’ infection rates

Onset of a cold snap has led to rising numbers of infections, hospital admissions and deaths

FILE - People walk along the main pedestrian shopping street in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The streets of Stockholm are quiet but not deserted. After a long, dark Scandinavian winter, the coronavirus pandemic is not keeping Swedes at home even while citizens in many parts of the world are sheltering in place and won't find shops or restaurants open on the few occasions they are permitted to venture out. (AP Photo/David Keyton, File)

European countries are rushing to tighten Covid-19 restrictions and introduce health passes to cope with rising infection and death rates with the onset of colder weather.

Latest data shows about six in 10 people in western European nations have had at least two doses of a Covid vaccine, with many more having been given a booster.

The vaccination rate in eastern European nations is around half that as only a third of eligible people have been inoculated. The World Health Organisation reported that the number of Covid-19 deaths across the continent had shot up by 5 per cent in the past week, the only region in the world to experience an increase in that period.

Accordingly, leaders this week announced a range of measures aimed at avoiding nationwide lockdowns over winter.

Here is a list of countries stepping up the battle against the virus:

Sweden

Sweden has for so long stood out from other European countries for its hands-off approach in dealing with Covid-19 but this week it changed track.

On Wednesday the government in Stockholm announced a health pass system for events with more than 100 people from December 1.

People will have to show they have received two doses of a vaccine, tested negative in the previous 72 hours or have fully recovered from the virus.

Such a pass had previously been in place only for travel in Sweden.

Amanda Lind, the Culture Minister, said it would not be mandatory to show proof of a vaccine but anyone who cannot must follow certain restrictions at events.

Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of the Swedish Public Health Agency, called it “a measure we see as necessary in order not to burden the healthcare system”.

Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of Sweden's Public Health Agency, announcing the introduction of a 'green pass'. Reuters

Belgium

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has warned “the alarm signals are flashing red” as he extended the use of face masks and mandatory working-from-home rules in a bid to stem the rise in Covid-19 cases.

The changes mean compulsory mask-wearing now applies to children aged 10 and over.

Previously, masks had been mandatory for all adults and recommended for children aged 12 and over.

Mr De Croo said special rules adapted to schools would be imposed imminently.

The government also reinforced rules in nightclubs, restaurants and bars, and coronavirus test results would need to be added to the mandatory vaccine certificate in many cases.

“If we want to avoid another lockdown, we have to show a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Belgium’s infection rate on Wednesday increased by 27 per cent over the previous seven-day period to exceed 10,000 new cases a day.

The number of people in hospital having tested positive for Covid-19 was 21 per cent higher than the previous week.

Germany

The nation reported 52,826 new Covid-19 infections and 294 deaths on Wednesday, sparking calls for additional restrictions.

Germany has declared a total of 98,274 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic and 5.13 million cases.

Angela Merkel, the departing Chancellor, said its people were facing a “dramatic” turn in events as the fourth wave rolls into Germany.

“The current pandemic situation in Germany is dramatic, I can’t say it any other way,” she said.

“The fourth wave is hitting our country with full force.”

The three political parties negotiating to form Germany’s next government have agreed on a series of public health measures for Parliament to debate on Thursday, news agency DPA reported.

These include higher penalties for forging vaccine or test certificates to create a maximum of five years imprisonment for professional gangs selling counterfeit documents.

Stricter workplace rules could be ushered in and employees could be ordered to work from home again, where possible.

The soaring numbers have placed Germany’s traditional Christmas markets in jeopardy.

The mayor of Munich said he was forced to call off the market in the Bavarian capital for the second year running due to the “dramatic situation in our clinics”.

Dieter Reiter said the news would deal a “bitter” blow to locals, stallholders and visitors but insisted the statistics “leave me no other choice”.

The organisers of Hamburg’s Christmas market have said the food and drink section will be off limits for the unvaccinated who will be restricted to browsing stalls.

Other markets due to open in the coming weeks have been left hanging in the balance due to rising cases.

Some of Germany's famous Christmas markets will not take place this year, after the rising number of Covid-19 cases reported in recent weeks. The festive event planned for Munich has been called off for the second year in a row. AFP

Czech Republic

Amid a rising daily infection rate which reached the highest seen in the eastern European nation so far, the government announced more rules.

Anyone attending a public event or going to a bar, restaurant or hotel from Monday must show a vaccine pass or a recovery from Covid.

Unvaccinated people who show a negative test will not be allowed entry.

The new measures were announced after the country’s previous daily high was smashed when it recorded 22,479 new cases in 24 hours.

Slovakia

The government in Bratislava has drawn up plans to quell the surge in cases by restricting the freedom of unvaccinated people.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger said a vote would be held on Thursday on a raft of proposals aimed at addressing the crisis.

If approved, Slovaks who have not been given two doses of a vaccine would be banned from hotels, swimming pools, gyms, non-essential shops and mass events. They would also have to show a negative test to gain entry to their place of work.

On Wednesday, Slovakian authorities recorded 8,342 daily cases, a figure which surged past the previous daily high of 7,244 set last Friday.

Northern Ireland

Ministers in Stormont on Wednesday voted in favour of introducing vaccine passports to access bars, restaurants, nightclubs and theatres from next month.

Anyone who has not had two doses will need to show a negative test result from the previous 48 hours or proof of immunity by displaying a positive PCR test result from the past 30 to 180 days.

A teenage disco held at The Elk in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, has been linked to an outbreak of more than 800 Covid-19 cases. Photo: Google

Fines will be issued to anyone caught breaking the rules.

Robert Swann, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, said Covid numbers are “too high” for inaction and authorities “need to forcibly push them down”.

“Our health and social care system is under severe stress,” he said.

The stricter measures were unveiled after a teenage disco at The Elk Complex in Toomebridge, County Antrim, was linked to at least 800 Covid-19 cases.

Partygoers described being squashed up against each other at the event on November 5, with one attendee Chloe, 15, saying she was “fearing for her life”.

Mid Ulster District Council, the local authority, has launched an investigation into the gathering and issue an order banning teenage discos until a review of safety measures is concluded.

Northern Ireland on Wednesday declared 1,848 new coronavirus cases and 12 deaths and official statistics showed week-on-week infections surged by 2,123 to reach 10,889.

Greece

The southern European nation on Thursday called on private doctors in five badly-hit regions to assist the public health system which is facing mounting numbers of infections.

The plea from Athens comes after public hospitals and intensive care wards have been overwhelmed by rising patient numbers in recent weeks.

On Wednesday the Mediterranean country reported 6,682 new coronavirus infections and 87 deaths, bringing total infections to 853,841 and the death toll to 17,012.

This month the government, which had hoped for a vaccination rate of 70 per cent, imposed restrictions on unvaccinated citizens as the figure hovered at about 60 per cent.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is expected to address the nation later on Thursday, calling for more Greeks to get vaccinated.

The Netherlands

Dutch health officials have brought forward a booster vaccination campaign starting with the over-80s and hospital workers after the country set a record for infections for the third day in a row on Wednesday.

The programme, which began on Thursday, had initially been scheduled to start next month but was moved forward by two weeks after pressure from MPs and health experts.

Despite 80 per cent of over-12s being fully inoculated, the Netherlands has experienced a surge in infections among school-age children.

Figures published by National Institute for Public Health this week showed infections had jumped by 76 per cent in the 10 to 14 category and by 85 per cent among 5 to 9 year olds.

Austria

On Thursday, the landlocked nation set a record for daily coronavirus cases when they rose above 15,000 as the worst-hit regions prepared for full-scale lockdowns.

The government is coming under increasing pressure to introduce a nationwide shutdown like it did late last year.

With one of western Europe’s lowest vaccination rates of 66 per cent, Austria’s infections are among the highest on the continent, at 971 per 100,000 people over the seven-day period.

The provinces hardest hit in the latest wave are in Upper Austria, a stronghold of the far-right Freedom Party, which has criticised vaccines.

Updated: November 18th 2021, 12:28 PM