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People eat at a restaurant in Weiden, Germany, where customers must follow the “3Gplus rule,” a reference to the first letter of the German words “geimpft, genesen, getested,” meaning “vaccinated, recovered or tested.”
People eat at a restaurant in Weiden, Germany, where customers must follow the “3Gplus rule,” a reference to the first letter of the German words “geimpft, genesen, getested,” meaning “vaccinated, recovered or tested.” (Immanuel Johnson/Stars and Stripes)

Europe has once again become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, a development fueled by slowing vaccination rates, spreading misinformation and loosened restrictions. With cases and deaths surging across the continent, countries are again considering lockdowns — and debating whether vaccines alone are sufficient to curb the coronavirus spread.

Close to 2 million cases of COVID-19 were reported last week in Europe — the “most in a single week in that region since the pandemic started,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said during a Friday news briefing. At the same time, the continent reported almost 27,000 deaths — a figure that represents over half of the world’s COVID-related deaths last week, he said.

“Some European countries are now reintroducing restrictions to curb transmission and take the pressure off their health systems,” Tedros said. “No country should be in this position, almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Europe was one of the first regions in the world to begin vaccinating its population. However, misinformation has contributed to lagging vaccination rates in some countries — for instance in Bulgaria, where conspiracies have spurred resistance to the shots.

To decrease the amount of unvaccinated people, nations have taken different measures. In Austria, one of Central Europe’s least vaccinated nations, proof of vaccination or recent recovery from the virus is required to enter events with 25 or more people, hotels, hairdressers and many dining and entertainment venues, according to the government. Italy last month enforced a vaccine mandate on its public and private workforce.

Still, European countries are grappling with rising cases — some experiencing their highest infection rates since the pandemic began.

“It’s another reminder, as we have said again and again, that vaccines do not replace the need for other COVID-19 precautions,” Tedros said. “Vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization, severe disease and death. But they do not fully prevent coronavirus transmission.”

The result has been countries returning to some of the pandemic’s early-days restrictions.

Austria’s government said Friday that it would meet this weekend to discuss lockdown measures for unvaccinated individuals. The Netherlands — which saw an unprecedented 33 percent increase in cases over the week — announced western Europe’s first partial lockdown of this winter, with three weeks of restrictions for shops, sport and catering that apply to all people, regardless of their vaccination status, the BBC reported.

“I’m seeing the storm clouds gathering over parts of the European continent,” Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a broadcast while encouraging people to get booster shots. “And I’ve got to be absolutely frank with people, we’ve been here before. We remember what happens when the wave starts rolling in.”


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