Mandatory jabs and restrictions: How Europe is responding to the new wave of Covid

How Europe compares in its Covid restrictions
How Europe compares in its Covid restrictions. Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP
From nationwide lockdowns to barring the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants and increased travel restrictions, countries around Europe are choosing different strategies to fight a new wave of Covid.

Austria

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

Recent weeks have seen Austria repeatedly hit new all-time highs in the number of new Covid cases reported daily, while hospitals are under increasing strain, particularly in Salzburg and Upper Austria but also across the country.

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated?

After Austria became the first EU nation to impose a controversial 10-day lockdown on those who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 the country went even further on Friday with the announcement of a nationwide lockdown for everyone (more details below).

The government still has the unvaccinated in its sights with the additional announcement that vaccination against Covid-19 would become compulsory.

And while the lockdown s planned to last for “a maximum” of 20 days for vaccinated people, it may well be extended for those not vaccinated.

What measures are in place to tackle Covid?

The new lockdown that begins on Monday (November 22nd) will follow the rules that are already familiar to people in Austria. That means valid reasons for leaving the house include going to work if it is not possible to work from home, seeking medical help, shopping for essential goods (such as for food or medicines) and exercise.

Hotels, restaurants, and non-essential retail will be closed. Retail shops for essential daily needs, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, can remain open.

Schools will not be officially closed but will remain open for “those who need them”, for example young children of parents working essential jobs or those with extra learning needs, but the government called on parents to return to home-learning if at all possible.

For all the details about the new measures in Austria CLICK HERE.

Germany

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

Germany is currently seeing the highest number of daily cases it has ever seen in the pandemic, with more than 65,000 infections logged within the previous 24 hours on Thursday. 

With intensive care wards at their limit in many places – particularly in Bavaria and Saxony – Germany’s acting Health Minister Jens Spahn says there is a “national emergency”. 

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated? 

Yes. Germany is bringing in nationwide 2G measures which means that only the vaccinated (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) will be able to enter many public places like restaurants, bars and hotels. Some states already have these rules in place.

People travelling on public transport or going to their workplace will also have to show they are vaccinated, recovered or tested against Covid (known as the 3G rule).

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

The German government and states also agreed this week that extra restrictions can be brought in depending on the hospital situation. This could mean that people who are vaccinated or recovered from Covid would have to take a test to enter some public spaces (2G plus rule). 

Health experts are calling for urgent nationwide action now and say the government and states’ restrictions don’t go far enough. 

Some states are, however, already going further, with Bavaria planning closures of bars, and cancelling all Christmas markets. Bavaria also says there will be lockdowns in the hardest-hit areas. Saxony also wants to see a partial shutdown.

AfD supporter with placard

A supporter of the far-right AfD party holds a placard calling for “No lockdowns ever again”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

France

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

Cases in France are rising rapidly – around 40 percent week on week – but the daily average of just over 10,000 new cases remains significantly lower than many of its neighbours. Just 25 percent of intensive care beds are occupied by Covid patients and death rates remain low.

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated? 

France has since August required a health pass to enter a wide range of venues including bars, cafés, tourist sites, leisure centres, gyms and long-distance train travel. The pass can be used by the unvaccinated, but only if they are willing to pay €22 for a Covid test every 72 hours.

Vaccination is compulsory only for healthcare workers.

From December 15th booster shots will be included in the health pass, and the pass will be deactivated for those aged over 65 who are eligible for a booster but didn’t get one.

A deserted square in Lille, Hauts-de-France. This is one of the least happy regions of the country.

Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

Apart from the addition of the booster shot to the vaccine pass, there are no extra restrictions currently planned in France. 

Indeed on Wednesday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that the fifth wave could be managed with the measures already in place.

He said: “We are light years away from the situation of 2020. We owe it to the vaccine, to the health pass and, of course, to everyone’s efforts. We therefore have all the cards in the face of this fifth wave.”

France’s high vaccination rate means that for the moment cases of serious illness and deaths remain low, but the government will be keeping a careful eye on the situation in hospitals.

Sweden

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

The number of cases in Sweden has not so far risen in the way seen in other European countries, with just 86 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, the lowest, or one of the lowest, rates in Europe, but there have been larger rises in some regions, and the Public Health Agency this week said that it is likely Sweden will not be spared the current wave.  

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated?

Aside from border restrictions, not yet. 

But Sweden’s government plans to introduce domestic vaccine passes for the first time from December 1st, with theatres, cinemas, sports competitions, and other events with more than 100 people able to demand that all attending show a valid vaccine pass.

Institutions and event organisers which do not use the passes, will have to follow as yet unannounced distancing and space restrictions. The opposition Moderate Party are pushing for the passes to also be required to enter restaurants and bars. The Public Health Agency is drawing up plans for a “phase two” of restrictions, which will likely include vaccine passes for restaurants. 

What other measures are in place or planned by the government?

From November 22nd, the Public Health Agency will again recommend that even fully vaccinated people who experience Covid-19 symptoms get tested. This reverses a controversial recommendation which came into force on November 1st, which meant that the vaccinated were no advised need get tested, whatever their symptoms. The recommendation means that free test kits will again be offered to vaccinated people in Swedish pharmacies. 

The government plans to bring in new distancing requirements and space requirements for indoor events of more than 100 people on December 1st. The details have yet to be announced. 

Denmark

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

Infection rates are at their highest in Denmark since the peak of the country’s second and worst wave of the coronavirus in December 2020. Friday saw 4,070 new cases registered, the second consecutive day over 4,000 and the highest figure since December 18th last year. 

Despite these grim figures, Denmark’s relatively high vaccination rate is protecting the country to an extent at the time of writing, meaning its overall situation looks favourable compared to some other countries.

A total of 378 people are currently hospitalised with Covid-19 nationally, three times as many as a month ago. This is still some way under the peak number from the second wave, when over 900 were hospitalised. This was in early January this year, when only a small number of people had been vaccinated against the virus. Infection numbers from that time are similar to those being recorded in November 2021. 

75.6 percent of the Danish population is now fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated? 

The Danish Covid-19 health pass, the coronapas, was recently reintroduced in a bid to slow the soaring infection numbers. It can be argued this represents an extra layer of restrictions on unvaccinated people, who will be required to frequently seek a Covid-19 test in order to access bars, restaurants, cafes and large events. This does not apply to unvaccinated people who have recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months, who would have a valid coronapas on that basis.

“For all of you who are not vaccinated, (things) are going to become more difficult. And that’s also how I think it should be,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said when she announced the return of the coronapas.

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

With the coronapas now one week into its reinstatement, the government announced on Friday that it will ask parliament to approve an extension of rules so that the health pass can be required at public sector workplaces.

At a briefing, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke also said he wants the period for which a negative Covid-19 test can provide for a valid coronapas to be reduced. Currently, unvaccinated people can hold a valid coronapas for 96 hours through a negative PCR test, or 72 hours with a rapid antigen test.

Denmark’s government has not signalled the imminent return of more invasive restrictions such as face mask mandates, lockdowns or public assembly bans, all of which were used in earlier phases of the pandemic.

Norway

How bad is the Covid situation right now? 

Norway is currently in the midst of a spike in Covid cases that have seen the record for the number of daily infections for throughout the pandemic set three times throughout November already. 

Hospitalisations are on the up, too, with 219 people hospitalised with Covid-19 as of November 18th. The week ending November 14th saw a record number of weekly deaths for 2021, with 38 Covid related deaths. Several hospitals have reported their intensive care units as being almost full.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has also said that it expects the epidemic in the country to continue to increase throughout November and December.

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated? 

Norway has chosen to adopt very few measures specifically for those that aren’t vaccinated. So far, more vigorous testing of unvaccinated healthcare workers, who have also been ordered to wear facemasks, with lots of patient contact has been implemented. In addition, daily testing for unvaccinated close contacts of Covid infected has also been brought in. On November 26th tighter border rules will also be brought in for unvaccinated travellers. They will need to take a Covid test 24 hours before travel and test once again at the border on arrival. 

READ MORE: Norway announces stricter Covid-19 border rules

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

Aside from the more stringent testing for the unvaccinated, the government has said the previously axed domestic Covid certificate would make a return

When scanned, the health pass flashes green if somebody is vaccinated or has returned a negative Covid test in the previous 24 hours. 

The government hasn’t outlined plans to introduce it nationally but will give municipalities the power to implement it. 

READ ALSO: These are the new rules for Norway’s domestic Covid-19 certificate

By doing this, the government hopes it can contain the spread of infection in areas with rising infections without imposing strict measures such as closing hospitality, as an example.

Spain

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

As things stand, Spain is the European nation which is coping best with this latest wave of the coronavirus, although cases are rising at an increasingly faster pace. 

Within a matter of two weeks, the fortnightly infection rate has doubled from being low risk to the current 105 cases per 100,000 people (medium risk). 

Fortunately, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths have not yet seen a substantial rise in a country where almost 90 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.  

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated? 

A growing number of Spanish regions are calling for the Covid health pass to be introduced for the hospitality sector, hospitals and large events, a measure which requires approval from local courts and has previously been rejected. 

There are approximately 4 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated in Spain. 

Currently there are no plans to impose stricter measures targeting unvaccinated people ahead of the Christmas period, although a mobile vaccination point aimed at foreign visitors has been set up in the popular tourist town of Benidorm, after local authorities picked up on a spike in hospitalisations among unvaccinated British tourists. 

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

At this time Spain has some of the most relaxed Covid-19 restrictions since the pandemic began – with masks required indoors the standout measure – but there are signs that the regions could start to bring back extra restrictions.

The Basque Country, which together with Navarre and Aragón currently have the highest infection rates in the country, has already announced it will cancel or postpone events that don’t meet the safety standards and other autonomous communities struggling to contain infections may follow suit as a precaution.

READ MORE: Will Spain bring back tougher Covid restrictions for Christmas?

Visitors have their Covid-19 certificates scanned before entering the Vatican Museums in Italy. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italy

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

Covid cases are on the up again in Italy as the contagion curve rises across countries close by. The infection and hospitalisation numbers have been steadily increasing in Italy for weeks. However, the latest figures remain less dramatic than neighbouring countries, despite another spike in the infection rate this week.

The weekly incidence rate rose to 98 per 100,000 inhabitants in the week of November 12-18th, up from 78 per 100,000 the previous week, according to a draft report from the health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS) published on Friday.

Authorities also recorded more than 10,000 new coronavirus infections within 24 hours twice this week – a figure not seen since May this year.

Key points: Italy’s new plans to contain the Covid fourth wave

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated?

So far, Italy’s government ministers and leading Italian health experts have pushed back against the idea, insisting current measures are enough to keep cases “under control”.

Some regional leaders are suggesting new restrictions should apply only to those who aren’t vaccinated under rules similar to those already in place in several other European countries.

The suggested system would limit Italy’s ‘green pass’ health certificate to those who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid, and would mean it was no longer available to those with a negative test result. This appears to mean that those who had not been vaccinated or certified as recovered would no longer be able to enter venues or businesses where green passes are required in Italy, including museums, gyms, theatres, indoor bars and restaurants.

But for now, there are few details available about how the proposed rules would work and government ministers have repeatedly stressed that the idea isn’t being considered while Italy’s numbers are comparatively lower.

EXPLAINED: Will Italy bring in a Covid lockdown for the unvaccinated?

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

Instead of restrictions to the unvaccinated, Italian health authorities are currently relying on the green pass system and the country’s relatively high rate of vaccination coverage to keep the infection rate under control.

New measures being planned by the health ministry include the rollout of mandatory third doses for health workers and bringing forward booster shots to the over 40s, as well as a cut to the validity of green passes for the vaccinated from 12 to nine months.

It also looks highly likely that Italy’s state of emergency will be extended beyond the current deadline of December 31st, 2021. The declaration of emergency status gives more power to the national government and regional authorities to bring in new laws rapidly in response to the changing health situation.

As for the coming Christmas season, no lockdowns or tighter restrictions are planned so far.

Switzerland

How bad is the Covid situation right now?

The Swiss government on Thursday, November 18th, said it would not be following Germany and Austria’s lead of restricting bars, restaurants and events to the fully vaccinated and those recovered from the virus, despite a 2021 record for new infections.

With a population of 8.6 million, Switzerland has recorded nearly 931,000 positive tests — with nearly 6,000 more added on Thursday — and 10,926 deaths during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Switzerland rules out making restaurants ‘vaccinated only’ despite Covid case record

Are there restrictions in place or planned against those not vaccinated? 

Switzerland’s current measures are relatively relaxed when compared to most of Europe, particularly its German-speaking neighbours. 

As it stands, people in Switzerland need a valid Covid certificate to visit indoor areas of bars, restaurants and events. 

The Covid certificate shows a person is ‘3G’ compliant, i.e. the person has been fully vaccinated, has recovered from the virus or has tested negative for the virus (in the past 72 hours with a PCR test, or the past 48 hours with an antigen test). 

Canton-by-canton: How visitors can get Switzerland’s Covid certificate

What measures are in place or planned by the government?

On November 18th, the government said further measures were ruled out for the meantime, with Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset telling the press he was was putting faith in its vaccination campaign.

While infection rates are climbing in Switzerland, death rates remain low due to the impact of the vaccination campaign.

Some have suggested Switzerland is reluctant to tighten measures due to an upcoming referendum on the matter. 

As part of its famous direct democracy system, Switzerland will vote on November 28 on its Covid-19 laws, including the Covid certificate for fully vaccinated, recovered or tested-negative people.

READ MORE: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s Covid referendum on November 28th?

While the vote looks set to pass by a two-thirds majority, Swiss media has suggested the government may be delaying decisions on tighter measures until after the vote. 


Member comments

  1. Infection rates continue at a high level in the UK, mainly due to the lack of restrictions and a total reluctance by the government to impose any restrictions !

    1. Which is a good thing and what the EU needs to follow. We cannot vaccinate in the EU for ever, so we need a high level of exposure and natural immunity.

      The covid rate despite no restrictions has been flat in England for several months. Proving perhaps that covid passes, masks, testing, etc are in the end counterproductive as they reduce exposure and so weakens the immune systems of the 99% who are not normally affected to Amy great extent by covid. The 99% in much of the EU fail to provide herd immunity and have their own immunity lowered by reduced social contact.

      The thing that should have been done was to remove all mask restrictions in the summer when infections were low and accept that covid number would rise but herd immunity would kick in. This appears to have happened in the UK ( and some US states) but not it seems the EU, who seem determined in the main, to destroy their chances of getting through this, by being over cautious and demonising whole sectors of their populations for no good reason

  2. What about the UK !!!??? It’s still in “Europe” and your article is headed with the word “Europe”. It’s the second biggest country in Europe : How can you not include it? Many Swedish citizens/residents, like me, have very close connections with the UK and are very interested in the status there.

    1. > [The “U”K]’s the second biggest country in Europe

      Eh? Not by area: It’s 9th (excluding Russia and Ukraine), Wikipedia “List of European countries by area”. As an aside, France is 1st (excluding overseas overseas departments (France) and somewhat similar (“British”)).
      The “U”K might be 2nd by population (but just barely)… excluding Russia and Turkey, it’s either 2nd or 3rd, about the same as France (the confusion is the figures include overseas regions (France) but the “British” figures are not equivalent), Wikipedia “List of European countries by population”.

      Perhaps more to the point, the “U”K (actually, just England and Wales (if my memory is correct)) voted to leave the EU, and since then has been trying to tear up the brexit-related treaties. That (admittedly probable minority) have made it very very clear they want nothing to do with “Europe”, so why bother with counting them? Especially at a site written in English; i.e.,for an audience who is obviously capable of checking “British” sites (which one should be doing anyways as a double-check).

      Of course, this point *is* rather undermined by the article also not including any information on Ireland! (The English-speaking independent country which actually is part of the EU.) Plus lacking various other EU/European countries.

      1. Your reply includes a lot of irrelevant and pedantic information and demonstrates that you did not understand my point! You seem to be very “defensive” and critical without any reason; possibly demonstrating your own limited grasp of the issues that are important. Go away.

      2. The UK is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – still very much in Europe, but sadly no longer in the EU.

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