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Third wave of Covid hits Europe: imposed bans and vaccines stay an issue

Members of the medical staff are reviewing a patient's information in the pulmonology department of the AP-HP Cochin hospital in Paris on March 18, 2021 as the number of people hospitalized with the Covid-19 increases in the French capital.

CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT | AFP | Getty Images

More than a year after the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, Europe continues to grapple with the virus amid a third wave of infections and an increase in lockdown measures.

At the same time, the introduction of vaccinations in the block remains sluggish, which is affected by manufacturing and delivery problems, so that the heads of state and government of the European Union meet this week to discuss the introduction of possible export bans for vaccines again.

A handful of countries are reintroducing lockdowns to contain a third wave of infections. France, Poland and Ukraine are implementing stricter measures over the weekend that should last at least several weeks.

A month-long partial lockdown was reintroduced on Saturday in Paris as well as 15 other regions of France to deal with rising case numbers, largely due to new, more contagious variants of Covid.

However, the last partial lockdown is less strict than the previous ones, leading some to question the point of such a move, while others have said the new measures are confusing. There is still a curfew and interregional travel is still effectively prohibited. Around 21 million people in France are affected by the new regulations.

The country reported over 30,000 new cases a day on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections in the country to over 4.2 million. So far, over 92,000 people have died as a result of the virus in France.

In the meantime, Europe's largest economy, Germany, could extend a national lockdown until April as the country also battles a third wave of Covid-19 cases. Several states have reportedly called for the current restrictions to be extended as the Covid incidence rate has exceeded 100 cases per 100,000 people. A level previously announced by the government would prompt them to implement an "emergency brake" – a stalling of the lifting of lockdown measures – to prevent further spread.

The move would be a blow to Germany, which had started to simplify lockdown measures, allowing schools to reopen in February and some non-essential businesses to resume customers earlier this month.

Vaccination fights

As more and more cases of coronaviruses occur in large parts of the EU, the introduction of the vaccine remains sluggish and controversial.

EU leaders will meet virtually on Thursday to discuss whether to block vaccine exports while supplies in the region remain tight and the vaccination program lags behind that in other developed nations.

Criticized for ordering coronavirus vaccines in large quantities later than the UK and US, the EU has subsequently faced supply issues despite two of the vaccines it has approved – the recordings from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-University of Oxford – were used. made in the EU.

There are reports that the EU could block exports of AstraZeneca vaccine at a Dutch plant – a move that could also jeopardize the previously successful launch of vaccines in the UK. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to contact his European counterparts to try to break the impasse on vaccines.

The launch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine has been fraught with several hurdles in the past few weeks. A handful of European countries have discontinued the use of the shot due to concerns about its possible association with reports of blood clots.

The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency carried out safety reviews of the vaccine last Thursday, the latter determining it is safe, effective, and the benefits outweigh the risks.

The conclusion resulted in a reversal of the vaccine suspension in most (but not all) European countries that had discontinued its use, but the move could damage public confidence in the vaccine, which was already shaky due to misguided questions about the vaccine's effectiveness shot in the over 65s.

Real-world data has since proven the vaccine to be highly effective in reducing severe Covid cases, hospital stays and adult deaths. The vaccine received another boost on Monday when the results of a large U.S. study were published that found the AstraZeneca vaccine was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic illness and 100% effective against serious illness and hospitalization.

However, a YouGov poll published on Monday found that the decision of some European nations to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine "severely damaged the public perception of the safety of the vaccine in Europe".

The survey, carried out between March 15-18 in seven European countries (UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden) found that the vaccine was more likely than not in France, Germany, Spain and the US Italy is classified as unsafe as safe. It should be noted that the survey was conducted the week that the vaccine's safety data was questioned, and especially before the EMA published its safety decision on the shot.

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