Virus: German cases hit record as 4th wave spreads in Europe

A sign indicates the way to a COVID-19 test center in Berlin on Nov 4, 2021. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP)

WASHINGTON / ROME / BURLIN / LONDON / LJUBLJANA / THE HAGUE – Germany reported record COVID-19 infections for a second straight day, as a fourth wave of the pandemic hits Europe and threatens to overwhelm hospitals in some hot spots.

Cases increased by 37,120 on Thursday, while the seven-day incidence rate climbed to 169.9, exceeding the peak reached during the third wave in the spring, according to the latest data from the RKI public-health institute.

“All alarm signals are showing red,” Michael Kretschmer — the premier of the eastern state of Saxony, which has one of Germany’s most severe outbreaks — said Friday. “Urgent action is needed.”

The surge prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to express deep concern about the course of the pandemic heading into the winter. It also threatens to interfere with coalition talks led by Olaf Scholz to form a new government after his Social Democratic Party won September’s national election.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn will conclude a two-day meeting with counterparts from the country’s 16 states later on Friday, when they are expected to agree on offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters to almost everyone who wants one.Germany’s spike is indicative of issues across Europe, where infections are surging as restrictions ease and colder weather forces people indoors. The spread comes despite broad access to vaccinations and should be a warning shot for the world, a World Health Organization official said Thursday.

The country’s immunization drive has stalled in recent months, with just under 67 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Some 16 million Germans who are eligible for a COVID-19 shot have opted not to get one, and 3 million of those are at least 60 years old, Spahn said this week.

The infection rate in Saxony is ten times higher among non-vaccinated people, according to Kretchmer. He warned that restrictions may need to be reimposed if trends continue.

“If we don’t act swiftly, we’ll end up in a lockdown like last year,” Kretschmer said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. “It’s about preventing that to protect children, families and the economy.”

ALSO READ: Europe is COVID-19 epicenter again as cases surge, WHO says

A runner competes past the Eiffel Tower in the 42,195 km Paris Marathon, as part of its 45th edition on Oct 17, 2021. (GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

France

A return of American tourists helped bump up the number of visitors to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to pre-COVID-19 levels last month, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the landmark’s operator, Sete.

The number of visitors in October topped 20,000 a day and were “better than in 2019 on the weekends,” AFP cited Sete as saying. Over the summer, the site received about 13,000 visitors a day, compared with 25,000 before the crisis as the numbers were capped by health restrictions — including a 50 percent limit on the number of people allowed in elevators.

In this file photo taken on Aug 6, 2021, a
visitor shows his COVID-19 certificates for scanning before entering the Vatican Museums in the Vatican. (ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Italy 

Italy celebrated National Unity and Armed Forces Day on Thursday, a national day since 1919, as COVID-19 infections spike amid the new wave.

In a festive address, Prime Minister Mario Draghi compared the country's fight against COVID-19 to the "spirit of service" of the armed forces. He thanked the Italian soldiers for their work on protecting the country from enemies and from COVID-19 alike, saying that "we need your courage and humanity."

The coronavirus situation in Italy continued to slowly deteriorate despite the relatively high vaccination rates. Over the past seven days, the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care increased by more than 12 percent, the country's Ministry of Health said.

In addition to the rising hospitalization rate, the ministry on Thursday reported 5,905 new COVID-19 infections within 24 hours. This was the highest single-day rate since Sept 8.

The pandemic claimed 59 lives in Italy in the 24-hour period ending on Thursday, four fewer than on Wednesday. But the two-day total was also the highest since September.

A man wearing a protective face mask sits in a city bus in Riga, Latvia, on Oct 21, 2021, the day the new one-month-long lockdown starts.

Latvia

WASHINGTON / ROME / BURLIN / LONDON / LJUBLJANA – The Latvian parliament on Thursday allowed businesses to fire workers who refuse to either get a COVID-19 vaccine or transfer to remote work, as the country battles one of the worst COVID-19 waves in European Union.

About 61 percent of Latvian adults are fully vaccinated, less than the European Union average of 75 percent.

The new law allows businesses to suspend the unvaccinated without pay if they refuse to either get the COVID-19 jab or, if possible, to get transferred to remote work. They can then fire the employees if they do not get the vaccine in three months of the suspension.

"There is a sufficient reason to believe that such person is not suitable for the position", the Latvian government wrote in a submission to the parliament, explaining the reasoning.

The new rules will take effect on Nov 15 as Latvia emerges from the lockdown, and there are exceptions for those with medical reason to not vaccinate, such as the recent survivors of the disease.

Previously, the vaccine mandate only applied only to workers in healthcare, education, and social care, the Latvian public broadcaster reported.

Netherlands

The Netherlands recorded more than 10,000 new COVID-19 infections in one day, the first time since July 18, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment announced on Thursday.

The RIVM reported 10,272 more positive cases over the 24 hours from Wednesday to Thursday.

 Over the past week, 58,375 new infections have been registered, the highest weekly total since July 22. The average over the past seven days amounted to almost 8,400 new cases per day.

The Dutch government announced on Tuesday new measures to combat rising infections. Wearing a face mask will be mandatory again in public indoor places in the Netherlands starting Saturday.

This file photo taken on Nov 17, 2020 shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US biotech company Novavax. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Novavax 

Vaccine developer Novavax Inc said on Thursday it has completed the submission process for emergency use listing of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate with the World Health Organization.

The company submitted to the health agency all modules required for the evaluation of NVX-CoV2373, its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine, days after receiving its first emergency use authorization from Indonesia.

"The first authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine… will fill a vital need for Indonesia, which is the fourth most populous nation on earth and continues to work to procure sufficient vaccine for its population," Chief Executive Stanley Erck said during an investor call.

The company is also expecting regulators in countries including India and the Philippines to decide on its vaccine within weeks.

A green light from the WHO would set the stage for Novavax to begin shipping doses to the COVAX program that supplies shots to low-income countries.

Novavax is prepared to deliver its vaccine globally, Erck said in a statement. Novavax's partner, Serum Institute in India, has already manufactured "tens of millions" of doses that are ready for shipment, Erck added during the call.

The company said it remains on track to file for US approval by end of the year.

READ MORE: Britain approves Merck's COVID-19 pill in world first

A woman, surrounded by tear gas, rides a bike during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions in Ljubljana on Oct 5, 2021. (JURE MAKOVEC / AFP)

Slovenia

Slovenia recorded 4,511 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 3,456 cases a day earlier, the National Institute of Public Health said on Thursday.

This was the highest single-day count in the country for the second day in a row.

The institute said that 44.4 percent of the polymerase chain reaction tests came back positive, down from 44.8 percent a day earlier. Nine people died from COVID-19, taking the cumulative death toll in the country of some 2.1 million citizens to 5,111.

The government is expected to discuss further measures against the spread of coronavirus on Friday.

United Kingdom

Another 37,269 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 9,208,219, according to official figures released Thursday.

The country also reported a further 214 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 141,395. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

There are currently 9,311 patients in hospital with COVID-19.

US President Joe Biden speaks on the authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 in the South Court Auditorium, next to the White House, in Washington, DC on Nov 3, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

United States

US President Joe Biden will enforce a mandate that workers at US companies with at least 100 employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly starting Jan 4, spurring legal challenges from Republican governors who say Biden is overstepping his authority.

Within hours governors from Florida, Iowa and Indiana had vowed to fight the new rule, arguing it infringes on individual freedom.

Despite growing political opposition, the delayed roll-out of the mandate offered a reprieve to businesses facing labor shortages during the holiday season. Biden's related decision to push back a deadline for federal contractors to the same date suggested the White House accommodated requests from companies and industry groups.

The administration also said millions of workers in healthcare facilities and nursing homes participating in the Medicare and Medicaid government healthcare programs will need to get their shots by the same date.

The action on the private-sector vaccinations was taken under the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration's emergency authority over workplace safety, officials said. The mandate applies to 84.2 million workers at 1.9 million private-sector employers. Another 18.5 million workers for those employers are exempt because they either work remotely or outside all the time, OSHA said.

Meanwhile, a White House aide who accompanied Joe Biden to international summits in Europe last week tested positive for coronavirus infection before the president returned to the US, according to people familiar with the matter. The aide isn’t believed to have had close contact with the president.

The aide and some of Biden’s other traveling staff remained in Scotland after the president attended a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow because of concern about transmission, the people said. The exact number of staff involved is unclear, as is their current condition.

WHO

The case surge in Europe despite its access to vaccinations should be a warning shot for the world, a World Health Organization official said at a media briefing Thursday.

Amid a wrong perception that the pandemic is ending, governments may be hesitant to make moves that seem like steps backward to their populations, according to Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program.

“Every country needs to look at its strategic preparedness and response plan and look at the gaps in the system that exist right now and plug those holes,” Ryan said. “Every country needs to ensure they can get through the next few months without systems going into collapse again. In many countries, that will require a course correction and a real focus on ensuring every person has had full vaccination.”