Much of Europe has opened up to international visitors and scaled back Covid-19 restrictions since a wave of cases swept the continent in the spring. Those steps back toward pre-Covid life have been accompanied by a gradual rise in cases and hospitalizations in many nations, with the more transmissible Delta variant dominant in the region. However, vaccination rollouts have kept hospital admissions far below where they were in the first months of 2021.
As a result, Europe presents a varied picture as governments brace for a potential rise in cases in the autumn and winter months.
Hospital admissions in France rose throughout August, amid warnings of a fourth wave of the virus hitting facilities across the country. By the end of the month, more than 11,000 people were in hospitals with Covid-19.
But hospitalizations have shown some signs of leveling off in September. The total number of patients has dipped back below 10,000 — well shy of the country’s April surge when more than 30,000 people were being cared for. France has implemented strict restrictions on unvaccinated people in an effort to advance its rollout. As of Thursday, healthcare workers are required to be fully immunized, and “health passes” are needed in order to enter restaurants or travel long distances. The government has confirmed that around 3,000 healthcare workers have been suspended after missing the deadline to get fully vaccinated.
Italy was battling a huge surge in hospitalizations in April, with more than 32,000 people admitted to the country’s health care facilities. The number of patients then dropped to a low of around 1,250 in mid-July, before climbing again in recent weeks, according to Our World in Data. The country has seen just under 5,000 hospitalizations in recent days. After being hit hard in the early stages of the first wave, Italy was one of the first countries to reopen to visitors in 2020. In 2021, the entry has been largely limited to residents of the European Union, plus a select list of non-EU countries, including the USA, Canada, Japan, and the UK. Italy on Thursday became the first country in Europe to make it mandatory for all public and private sector workers to show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or a recent recovery from infection. The rule is aimed at persuading more people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and is due to come into force on October 15.
Ireland has fared better than some of its closest neighbors in terms of case numbers and deaths, which are among the lowest in Europe — thanks in large part to one of Europe’s harshest lockdowns throughout the pandemic. Alongside its EU counterparts, it has now reopened to visitors. Hospitalizations have trickled up since then but still stayed lower than in previous waves. There are now signs of a plateau in hospital admissions — around 60 people have been in intensive care units each day throughout September, compared to a peak of 221 in January. Unlike the neighboring UK, Ireland is still limiting capacity at large indoor and outdoor events, including sporting fixtures. Ireland’s restrictions are set to be eased from September 20, with fully vaccinated people allowed to meet indoors in groups of up to 100. From October 22, the government plans to remove the final remaining restrictions on face coverings, social distancing, and large gatherings.
After beginning 2021 with one of Europe’s longest and strictest lockdowns, the UK lifted virtually all remaining restrictions in July despite an uptick in cases. Large events and nightclubs are able to operate without distancing measures, and masks are no longer required in most public places. Hospitalizations have trickled up since that date. In early September, daily admissions of Covid-19 patients reached a seven-day rolling average of 1,000 for the first time since February, according to official data.
But the UK’s strong vaccination rollout has kept numbers far below where they were in the winter peak; in January more than 4,000 people were admitted to British hospitals every day with the virus, despite cases being only slightly higher than they are now.