Covid cases rise 500% in Netherlands and Perpignan as EU map turns red

Dramatic rises in infections among unvaccinated rein in reopening plans

Passengers’ documents are checked at the port of Piraeus, near Athens on Friday. Photograph: Epa/Pantelis Saitas

Passengers’ documents are checked at the port of Piraeus, near Athens on Friday. Photograph: Epa/Pantelis Saitas

 

European governments, wary of dramatic spikes in Covid-19 cases as the Delta variant surges among unvaccinated people, have tightened travel rules and sought to ramp up jabs to keep a cap on infections.

Both the Netherlands and the French region of Perpignan saw infections soar by over 500 per cent in a week, leading authorities to pull back on summer reopening measures.

The southern French region re-imposed mandatory face masks in all public outdoor and indoor spaces and banned the consumption of alcohol outdoors, while urging people not to travel to neighbouring Catalonia in Spain, where cases are also surging.

“More measures could be announced depending on the evolution of health indications and pressure on the hospital system,” the regional government of Pyrénées-Orientales announced, citing a “worrying growth” in the Delta variant.

Earlier this week, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte publicly apologised for an “error of judgement” in easing restrictions too soon after an explosive growth in cases, including a mass spreading event in a nightclub that saw the highest daily infections since a December peak. Curbs on bars, restaurants and discos were re-imposed.

Figures collected by the Dutch public health agency showed 84 per cent of infected people had not received any Covid-19 vaccine, while a further 10 per cent had only one jab.

Where possible, countries have sought to speed up vaccinations and shorten wait times between doses in response to the spread of the Delta variant, with Greece and Poland offering incentives and the Netherlands seeking to open walk-in vaccination centres across the country.

Vaccinations are open for ages 12 and up in many states including Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia. The European Commission announced that enough doses had been delivered to the bloc to vaccinate 70 per cent of adults.

Nevertheless, soaring infections have begun to put the EU’s summer tourism season under strain.

Cyprus, the Netherlands, Spain, and the Greek island of Crete have all turned red on the Covid-19 map of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, reflecting an upturn in infections across the Continent after a period of decline.

Germany has declared Greece and the neighbouring Netherlands to be Covid-19 risk areas and warned against travel to both; Malta, which has the European Union’s highest rate of vaccination, announced it would bar unvaccinated visitors. 

Several Spanish regions moved to reintroduce nightly curfews, as rocketing infections among young people saw 8,000 new cases a day reported in Catalonia. Hospital infections have also doubled in the last two weeks, as infections reached their highest level since February.

Italy made vaccination for healthcare staff mandatory in April. Other countries joined it this week. Greece, where infections increased ten-fold in a month, imposed mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers and nursing-home staff and announced that customers at bars, cafes and restaurants would have to show proof of vaccination.

French president Emmanuel Macron also announced mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers and said proof of vaccination would be required to enter cafes, theatres, cinemas, sports venues or festivals. That prompted a surge in appointments for vaccines: some three million were scheduled in 72 hours, and the country set a new record for jabs on Tuesday, administering 800,000 injections – or 1.2 per cent of the population.

In Germany, 60 per cent of people have received at least one vaccine dose and 45 per cent are fully vaccinated, close to the EU norm. Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that the country was starting to “have more vaccines than we have people who want to be vaccinated”, but that inoculation would remain voluntary.