How bad is Europe’s third wave of coronavirus?

·5 min read
GDANSK, POLAND - 2021/03/22: A man wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the spread of covid-19 walks along the main Street in the old town of Gdansk.
By the decision of the government, from March 20 to April 9, new restrictions will be introduced related to the coronavirus pandemic in Poland. This means that the new restrictions will apply during Easter. The daily average of infections in Poland in the last seven days amounted to over 22,200 cases. (Photo by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A man walks in Gdansk, Poland, which has seen a spike in COVID cases. (Getty Images)

Europe is currently facing a deadly third wave of coronavirus as infections and fatalities in the UK continue to fall.

Countries have been forced to tighten restrictions as the more infectious British variant spreads across the continent.

Eastern Europe has emerged as a hotspot for the virus but other nations such as France, Italy and Sweden have also seen spikes in cases.

Boris Johnson has warned that the third wave will reach the UK, and has faced calls to tighten travel measures to keep infections out of the country.

Watch: Boris Johnson says UK will 'feel effects' of third wave

How bad is the new wave in Europe?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cases are up by 13% across the continent week on week.

The highest numbers of new cases were reported from France (204,840 new cases; 313.8 new cases per 100,000 people; a 27% increase), Italy (154,493 new cases; 255.5 new cases per 100,000 people; similar to the previous week), and Poland (151,918 new cases; 401.4 new cases per 100,000 people; a 36% increase), according to WHO data.

The increase in infections is largely down to the spread of the more infectious British variant of the virus, according to experts.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said the variant amounts to a “new pandemic".

On Tuesday, she said: “We are now basically in a new pandemic. The British mutation has become dominant.

“Fundamentally, we face a new virus of the same kind but with very different characteristics. More deadly, more infectious, and infectious for longer.”

People wait for their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm company, at a vaccination center of a seniors club in Budapest on February 25, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. - Hungary on February 24, 2021 became the first EU nation to start using China's coronavirus Sinopharm vaccine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. The country of 10 million has ordered around five million doses of the Chinese jab, and has already started inoculating its population with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine -- another EU first. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP) (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images)
A vaccination centre in Budapest. (Getty Images)
A chart from Our World in Data shows the increase in cases in Europe. (Our World in Data)
A chart from Our World in Data shows the increase in cases in Europe. (Our World in Data)

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the situation in many EU countries was “alarming”, with increasing cases in 19 EU members and rising fatalities in eight.

As the Our World in Data chart below shows, infections have increased sharply in Poland and Sweden, with Italy, Austria and Greece also seeing a rise.

The EU refined its rules on the export of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday amid the bloc's slow rollout, giving it a clearer right to block shipments to countries such as the UK with higher inoculation rates and to those not exporting their own vaccine doses.

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Eastern Europe emerges as COVID hotspot

A wave of infections has swept through Eastern Europe in 2021.

According to figures from Our World in Data, Hungary this week overtook the Czech Republic as the country with the world’s highest daily COVID-19 deaths per capita.

Hungary also has the third-highest daily case rate in the world, with 842.93 per 1m cases recorded on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic is fourth on the list, with 834.76 cases per 1m.

Experts have once again blamed the spread of the UK variant, which accounts for most new reported cases and infects entire families.

The region is also host to many large factories where remote work has not been possible, and this time round, governments have been reluctant to quickly impose lockdowns, fearing further blows to their economies after last year’s recession.

While new infections in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have started to decline, Poland reported a record number of new cases of 29,978, and the government has considered sending patients to different regions to help hospitals cope.

Poland ranks at number nine in the top 10 countries with the highest daily case rates in the world, with 596.20 per 1m cases recorded on Tuesday.

Its government has ordered theatres, shopping centres, hotels and cinemas to close.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: "We have to suffocate the third wave. That's why we will announce new restrictions... that will be enforced during the week before and the week after the [Easter] holidays.”

BERLIN, March 19, 2021 -- Staff members help an old man on a wheel chair enter a COVID-19 vaccination site in Berlin, capital of Germany, March 19, 2021. Germany's reported daily COVID-19 infections continued to rise sharply on Friday as the country registered 17,482 new cases in one day, the Robert Koch Institute RKI said on Friday. (Photo by Stefan Zeitz/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Stefan Zeitz via Getty Images)
A COVID-19 vaccination site in Berlin, Germany. (Getty)

What does this mean for the UK?

On Monday, Johnson warned that the third wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping across Europe could be heading here.

He told a press conference: “Previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it, I’m afraid, washes up on our shores, as well, and I expect that we will feel those effects in due course.”

But scientists have criticised the PM for that statement, with Christina Pagel, a mathematician and professor of operational research at University College London, accusing him of “talking b******s”.

She tweeted: “It's cynical opportunism to blame any resurgence in England on the European wave. It is frankly absurd.”

Prof Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage group, added: “It is entirely on the government if we have another wave this summer – not the EU.”

Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said the third wave in Europe has “already happened to us [the UK], and we’re through to the other side.”

He said: “I don’t think, just because cases are rising in Europe, that necessarily throws our timetable into doubt; what it may do is affect planning around restrictions on international travel, how much we try and screen people coming into the country.”

Watch: How England will leave lockdown