Due to the spring surge in the pandemic, propelled mainly by the spread of new more contagious and more deadly variants, European countries have been forced to impose new measures or delay the easing of restrictions.
While there are similar aspects to some European government’s strategies there are also big differences. Here’s an overview of the restrictions and state of play across most western European countries.
Germany – New lockdown for ‘a new pandemic’
After a marathon 13 hours of talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state leaders, the country decided to reinforce its strictest shutdown since the start of the pandemic a year ago.
“Essentially, we have a new virus…it is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer,” Merkel said.
As well as extending existing measures including keeping cultural, leisure and sporting facilities shut through to April 18th, Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers agreed a tougher shutdown over Easter.
During the Easter holidays between April 1st and 5th, all private gatherings are capped at two households of up to five people, plus children under 14 and supermarkets will remain closed, only opening their doors on Easter Saturday.
In general bars and restaurants will remain closed until April 18th, and schools and non-essential shops will close in areas with a 7-day incidence rate of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people.
Originally the much-anticipated federal-state meeting was planned to discuss further loosening Germany’s lockdown measures, which have been in effect – and continually extended – since the beginning of November. In the first week of March, hair salons, flower shops and home appliance stores reopened for the first time since December, and many breathed a sigh of relief in the hopes that other relaxations would soon be on the way.
Yet over the past couple of weeks, Germany has seen a surge in new cases, largely due to virus variants. The nationwide 7-day incidence jumped to 108.1 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, up from about 60 just two weeks prior.
France – Curfew and a new ‘lockdown light’
France’s national 7-day incidence rate stands 307.8, but this hides big regional variations between areas like Finistère in western Brittany where case numbers are very low – giving an incidence rate of 76.8 – and the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis which has a worrying rate of 683 cases per 100,000 people.
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A limit of two guests at private homes and a national ban on businesses serving alcohol are among new measures to be put in place by the government.
Austria on Monday decided to extend its coronavirus lockdown until after Easter, scrapping a plan to loosen certain measures from March 27th.
The seven-day incidence rate is 240.4 per 100,000 people.
The number is now highest in the states of Vienna (321.9) and Salzburg (300.3). The value is lowest in Vorarlberg (66.7), Carinthia (187.1) and Styria (187.3).
Currently, strict measures apply to all of the country other than the western state of Vorarlberg, including a nighttime stay-at-home order, along with the closure of bars, restaurants and leisure facilities.
In Austria, hairdressers and cosmetic services may open, however people are required to show a negative Covid test which is less than 48 hours old.
Schools are open for face-to-face classes in Austria, however they can be closed in regions or municipalities experiencing a surge in infections or mutations of the virus.
In the state of Vorarlberg things are more relaxed – pubs and restaurants are allowed to open indoors and outdoors, while events with up to 100 people have been allowed take place since March 15th.
The nationwide measures are set to apply until after Easter, upon which a regional approach will be adopted.
Unlike a lot of other countries in Europe, Denmark is in a phase of easing restrictions and has just announced a plan to lift many of the rules currently in place over the next two months.
The country’s current incidence rate according to the ECDC is 161.07 cases per 100,000 residents. The number of people hospitalised with the virus is under 200 nationally and has been stable for several weeks, as have daily infection numbers. Just under 11 percent of the population has received a first vaccine dose.
Schools are currently partially open, the first part of society to see closures reversed following a lockdown implemented in December. Shops have also reopened this month, with the exception of large stores, which operate on an appointment basis, and malls and department stores.
Cinemas, theatres, bars and restaurants remain closed and the public assembly limit is currently 10 people outdoors or 50 for organised sports activities.
The reopening plan, announced on Monday night, sets out the gradual lifting of most restrictions at two-weekly intervals, providing infections stay under control and vaccines are delivered as expected. The use of vaccine passports forms part of that plan.
The government says it plans for the majority of restrictions to be lifted once all people over 50 have been vaccinated against the virus. The current vaccination programme will see this point reached by the end of May.
In Spain, where Covid restrictions are mainly decided on a regional basis, there has been a general easing of the rules across the country in recent weeks as a result of falling infection rates overall.
Lighter measures include allowing travel between municipalities/provinces and better opening hours and capacity limits for shops, bars and restaurants.
However, people in Spain will have to spend Easter at home or close by as all regional borders will remain closed for the holiday period in a bid to prevent a spike in cases as occurred after the Christmas period.
On the other hand, international tourists (mostly from the EU) will be allowed to visit Spain over Holy Week as long as they provide a negative Covid test and fill in a health form beforehand. They will also have to follow the restrictions in place in the part of Spain where they stay.
This arrangement is a matter of much debate in Spain currently, with some critics arguing Spaniards are being granted fewer rights than foreign visitors, and that opening up to mass tourism now could result in the fourth wave and consequently a tightening of restrictions that could be disastrous for Spain’s all-important summer season.
Spain’s 14-day infection rate currently stands at 128 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Elsewhere in Europe…
Elsewhere in Europe, England is currently at the beginning of a four-step plan to ease lockdown.
Schools are open and if all goes to plan pubs will open their outdoor areas next month. The plan could see all legal limits on social contact lifted by June 21st, if strict conditions are met. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own plans to ease restrictions.
After a strict post-Christmas lockdown enforced to ease pressure on overrun hospitals, Portugal has also now begun easing restrictions. By the beginning of May it plans to open all bars and restaurants even for indoor dining.