A card that gradually turns darker and darker red.
Many countries in central Europe are facing a sharp increase in the number of new cases of Covid-19 recorded daily, raising fears of a similar scenario in France in the days or weeks to come.
This indicator of positive tests is of course not perfect, in particular because it depends on the screening strategy.
But it still gives a good view of the evolution of the situation in a region of the world.
In one week, the number of new daily cases (on average over the past week) has climbed by at least 25% in a dozen countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania.
The increase exceeds 50% in five of them, mainly located in the Balkans: Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo.
All these countries are already starting from a very high incidence rate, usually higher or almost equivalent to that in France.
"Central Europe is experiencing the start of a third wave, characterized by reproduction rates [the number of people that an infected case contaminates, Editor's note] greater than 1.15, sometimes 1.2, since Several weeks.
The associated mortality is high, even at an alarming level as in the Czech Republic ”, comments epidemiologist Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute for Global Health in Geneva.
New restrictions everywhere
Faced with these situations, governments have no choice but to react.
The announcements have multiplied in recent days.
On Friday, a state of emergency was declared in the Czech Republic and it will come into force on Sunday.
The rise in contamination is approaching 30% but the country is above all, by far, the one with the highest incidence rate with nearly 1,000 new cases per day per million inhabitants.
“If the situation worsens by another 10%, we will be in a complete state of collapse.
Hospitals will not accept new patients and people will die at home, ”immunologist Václav Hořejší warned on Thursday in Radiožurnál.
From Monday, schools will be closed and outings will be very limited and even prohibited from one department to another.
In Poland, the mask is becoming compulsory in public spaces (there is no longer any question of wearing a simple protective visor, for example).
As in France, some measures are also regionalized.
For example, a province located in the north-east of the country has decided to close its shopping centers and cinemas.
In Estonia, museums and theaters will keep their doors closed and it will be prohibited to gather more than ten people outdoors between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., the government said on Friday.
Greece, for its part, announced the same day the extension until March 8 of the confinement in force in Athens and in several regions of the country.
Some measures were lightened before Christmas but, since February, schools and “non-essential” stores have been closed again.
Multiple possible explanations
It is difficult to say precisely why this region of central Europe is particularly affected.
One thing in common is the strong presence of the British variant, estimated to be between 30 and 70% more contagious, and which circulates in all countries.
It would represent between 50 and 70% of new cases in the Czech Republic, for example.
Displacement flows may also have had an impact, as well as the climate and the lack of vigilance or stricter measures at times.
“The arrival of new more transmissible variants, the possible role of air pollution by fine particles in winter (with a greater use of coal-fired power stations in this part of Europe) and that of winter may have contributed the outbreak of a tidal wave that seems to originate in the central part of Europe, possibly in Bulgaria, ”describes Antoine Flahault, his eye riveted on the indicators every day.
Hope through vaccination
To minimize the risk of the situation worsening further, governments are also relying heavily on immunization.
The aim is to allow the elderly to be protected as quickly as possible.
“We won't waver, we won't lose heart, and we won't back down.
[…] Thanks to vaccines, freedom is not very far away ”, urged the Greek Deputy Minister of Civil Protection, Nikos Hardalias.
The Czech Republic hopes to receive hundreds of thousands of additional Pfizer / BioNTech doses.
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After being the first (and the only to date) country in the European Union to inoculate the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, Hungary has for its part done the same with that of the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm this week.
These two products, however, have not been validated by the European Medicines Agency, which is waiting to be officially seized to examine the files.
Western Europe on borrowed time?
These worrying developments in the epidemic raise fears of a similar scenario further west, especially in France where the increase in new cases is - for the moment - between 10 and 15% from one week to another.
Already, the German regions with the highest incidence rate are those bordering the Czech Republic, namely Thuringia, Bavaria and Saxony.
“Each time we have experienced the start of a wave from a point in Europe (Italy for the first wave, Spain and the south of France for the second) we then saw the wave break over the sea. 'entire continent in the weeks that followed,' fears Antoine Flahault.
In this Europe built in particular on the principle of free movement of people, many countries have nevertheless tightened border controls, or even closed them unless there is a compelling reason, in the hope of limiting flows.
Because we know: the virus does not move on its own, but through the people it has infected.
Four European countries still show a decrease in the number of new daily cases: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Portugal.
But they had already experienced their own explosion of contaminations at the end of December or in January, again imposing sometimes very strict containment measures.