A health worker preparing before entering the covid19 positive cases department at São João do Porto University Hospital.

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There is a worrying surge in new coronavirus infections in some parts of Europe as authorities grapple with outbreaks and the spread of more infectious variants of the virus.

It has sparked fears of a “third wave” of Covid cases, although the number of new coronavirus infections has fallen dramatically in some parts of the region.

Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom have all seen a drop in infections in recent weeks. However, this is in stark contrast to countries like France, Germany and Greece, all of which are seeing increases on the previous week in weekly cases.

Come down for some

Infections are falling in the UK, where a more infectious variant emerged late last year and has since spread to Europe. That decline is likely due to both ongoing lockdown restrictions (which are slated to be lifted in the coming months) and a rapid roll-out of coronavirus vaccinations.

Since the vaccine launched in early December, the UK has vaccinated over 18.2 million people with at least their first dose of vaccine, the latest data shows. It was decided early on to postpone a second dose of the vaccine to a maximum of 12 weeks after the first dose in order to provide at least partial protection to more people.

With evidence showing vaccines can help prevent the virus from spreading as well as preventing serious Covid-19 infections, hospital stays and deaths, the UK’s weekly coronavirus case rate has fallen. In the past seven days, 73,392 people tested positive for Covid-19, a 14.7% decrease from the past seven days. On Wednesday, 9,938 new cases were registered from the previous day, a sharp decrease from the 31,839 cases reported on January 1 at the beginning of 2021.

Still, the UK still has the fifth highest number of cases in the world, with over 4.1 million registered cases and nearly 122,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.

Other countries in Europe seeing a decline in cases include Portugal, whose overstretched hospitals were in crisis in mid-January and where cases peaked at the end of the month. Earlier this week, the country’s health minister Marta Temido said the trend towards declining cases was solid.

“We are currently below 300 cases per 100,000 population. This trend has intensified,” she noted.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Spanish Ministry of Health announced Tuesday that it had finally overcome an “extreme risk” situation due to the virus.

The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the country now stands at 235, down from 250 the ministry said the pandemic was not under control, El Pais newspaper reported.

Third wave

When the UK detailed its plan to lift the lockdown earlier this week, other leaders on the continent worried about another possible wave of infections, especially as the introduction of vaccines in the European Union compared to its neighbor, the UK Kingdom continues to be sluggish

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Wednesday that new variants of the virus would risk a “third wave” of infections in the country and said caution should be exercised to avoid the need for another national lockdown. Current restrictions apply until March 7th.

“Due to (variants) we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, from which a third wave could emerge,” Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung after comments translated by Reuters. “So we have to proceed wisely and carefully so that a third wave does not require a new complete shutdown in all of Germany.”

The German health expert Karl Lauterbach, who is also a politician of the Social Democratic Party, said a further increase could be difficult to prevent.

“We are not yet in the middle of the third wave of infections, but it has started and cannot be stopped,” Lauterbach told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

Earlier this week, Germany and France tried to avoid closing their common border amid the increase in cases and the spread of variants. But on Thursday, France said it would tighten restrictions on the border as cases rise in the northeastern region of the Moselle, attributable to the spread of variants of the virus first discovered in South Africa and Brazil.

On Wednesday, the French government ordered the Dunkirk area to be closed at the weekend to stop the situation that Health Minister Olivier Véran called “alarming” as more and more cases are occurring there.

Other parts of the country have also seen an increase in infections, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters on Wednesday, according to France 24, with 10 of the 102 French territorial areas (so-called departments) currently in “a very worrying situation” and other restrictions in place .

Greece announced on Wednesday that it will not be able to lift lockdown restrictions in the greater Athens area next Monday as planned after cases rose sharply, particularly in the Attica region, where the capital is located.

There has also been an increase in cases in the Netherlands, albeit to a lesser extent. The public health institute released data Tuesday showing that there were 29,977 new infections in the week ended February 23. This is an increase of almost 19% from the week before (when 25,229 cases were registered).

In Italy, where the European pandemic first hit in February 2020, cases have also increased, causing a number of regions and municipalities to be reclassified from medium risk yellow to orange higher risk status were.

One of the country’s top virologists, Massimo Galli, told Il Messaggero newspaper last weekend that he was concerned about an increase in cases: “The recurrence of infections is largely due to the English variant. To be honest, all the data is in Go towards an increase in new cases. “

In Eastern Europe, Hungary and the Czech Republic also saw strong increases, while neighboring Poland saw a more gradual increase.

Vaccine stocks

Access to vaccines remains a problem as manufacturing issues arise at Pfizer / BioNTech in Belgium and at AstraZeneca’s plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Reuters reported Tuesday that AstraZeneca, citing an anonymous EU source, told the EU that it was expected to supply less than half of the Covid vaccines it was contracted to produce in the second quarter.

The drug maker did not comment directly on the report, but said it was working to “increase productivity in its EU supply chain and continue to leverage its global capabilities to deliver 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter . ” “” The EU reiterated this position in comments to CNBC.

Slower vaccine rollouts have economic ramifications as they prolong the negative impact of the pandemic on businesses. Florian Hense, senior economist at Berenberg, said in a note on Thursday: “Due to the spread of virus mutations, the risks on the European continent are directed downwards in the short term.”

“The recovery of economic activity could be further delayed if the restrictions persist. The economic outlook could deteriorate more profoundly later this year if countries fail to get near herd immunity by autumn,” he said.

“In that case, countries would have to significantly tighten restrictions on the next seasonal wave of viral infections next fall. We see this as a highly unlikely risk, not a likely scenario.”