Strict measures or tentative easing: How France, Portugal and Ireland deal with the pandemic.
PARIS/DUBLIN/MADRID taz | For weeks, President Emmanuel Macron has been saying he wants to avoid a harsh lockdown that his scientific advisors and the medical professionals of public hospitals had called for. Now the intensive care units in several parts of the country, including the capital region, are full to capacity or even beyond.
Since the beginning of the “third wave”, the authorities have been trying to buy time until the vaccination campaign is fully underway. As in neighboring countries, however, due to a lack of vaccines, it started too slowly and too late.
The night curfew at 8 p.m. was therefore brought forward to 6 p.m. in mid-January. Schools and shops, however, remained open. After curfew (7 p.m. due to summer time) there are actually fewer people on the streets in Paris. But many have friends or relatives who openly tell that they meet in apartments for “clandestine” dinners or parties, as they hardly fear police checks. Others have professional excuses.
In Nice and Dunkerque, in view of the rapid development, a lockdown was also ordered at the weekend. Its effect was modest. Ten days ago, the government had to decree further exit restrictions in 19 departments so far, in which more than a third of the total population lives. There you are only allowed to move within a ten-kilometer radius. Shops that are not “essential” had to close again. The reopening is not in sight for restaurants, cafés and theaters. Officially, there is no talk of a third “confinement” (lockdown).
But that’s quibbling because Macron had declared on the sidelines of a European Council that he had no reason for a “mea culpa” because the “explosion” in the number of new infections predicted by the epidemiologists had not materialized. The media, on the other hand, spoke almost unanimously of a “losing bet” by the head of state, who wanted to decide everything on Corona alone.
Infections that require the affected classes to be closed are currently increasing, especially in schools, which have always remained open. The third wave is now forcing Macron to tighten the “screw” of the restrictions further. The announcement is expected on Wednesday or Thursday.
Ireland remains closed
Ireland, on the other hand, has been in the third lockdown since the beginning of the year. The highest restriction level 5 applies until Monday, but after that no easing is to be expected. Except for grocery stores and pharmacies, everything is closed. Home visits are prohibited. You can only move five kilometers from your own home. Only elementary schools were gradually opened in mid-March.
But the measures are only having a limited effect. Fewer corona patients had to go to the hospital or intensive care unit. But the number of new infections is stagnating and is not declining significantly. This is mainly due to the infectious British virus mutation B 1.1.7, which is now responsible for over 90 percent of cases. The government failed to impose entry restrictions. Populist restrictions were also lifted at Christmas, which cost Ireland dearly.
165,000 people traveled to Ireland in December. In addition to Christmas presents, many also brought the virus with them. While the Green Island had the lowest infection rate in the EU at the beginning of December because severe restrictions were imposed at the end of October, it recorded the highest new infection rate in the world at the beginning of January.
Therefore you had to pull the rip cord. Restriction level 5 was imposed again on New Year’s Eve. But only since last Friday have travelers from high-risk areas to the quarantine hotel for two weeks – at their own expense, even if the test result is negative. The four planned hotels are overgrown by security companies and the army.
The previous corona balance sheet: more than 235,000 cases among five million inhabitants, almost 4,700 deaths, of which 40 percent died in the first six weeks of 2021. Prime Minister Micheál Martin does not expect new infections to drop below 500 per day in April. Says a health expert, “If the government did anything in April to amplify the wave, it would be a disaster. But if you wait until May or June, the risk could be lower. “
The National Public Health Emergency Team, which is advising the government, is also counting on the increased vaccination program to take effect in eight weeks. Until then, the Irish have to hold out. They do that relatively calmly.
Portugal dares to relax
When 26 medical forces of the Bundeswehr, including eight doctors, traveled from Germany to Portugal at the beginning of February, the health system there threatened to collapse. With over 800 Covid intensive care patients, the hospitals in the country with ten million inhabitants were completely overloaded.
When the German aid workers left the country last Friday, Portugal’s premier celebrated their farewell: “I am grateful to the medical team of the German army that fought side by side with our health workers against Covid-19 for six weeks,” tweeted Antonio Costa.
Portugal had lost control of the pandemic after wide openings at Christmas. In addition, there were family visits by Portuguese from abroad. Many live in the UK and brought the new more aggressive virus mutation with them. Now, after two months of tough lockdown, the numbers are finally down again.
136 Covid cases are still being treated in the intensive care units. While the 14-day incidence of new infections when the Bundeswehr arrived per 100,000 inhabitants was over 1,400 on average, there are currently 72. There are fewer than 10 Covid deaths per day. At the beginning of February there were around 300. So far, 16,843 Portuguese have not survived Covid-19.
Costa promises a new opening – “carefully and slowly, bit by bit …”. The government has apparently learned. Kindergartens, preschools and elementary schools as well as hairdressing salons, libraries and bookshops opened in mid-March. Garden restaurants, museums, small shops and cafes have to wait until Easter Monday. Middle and senior high schools and universities open on April 19, including cinemas, theaters and shopping malls. Restaurants are then allowed to open with restrictions.
The border with Spain remains closed until Easter Monday. The rules for international flights are tightened. Anyone who comes from a country with a 14-day incidence of over 150 is only allowed to enter in urgent cases and with a negative PCR test. Anyone who comes from a country with a value over 500 has to be in quarantine for two weeks. The measures should be checked every two weeks, said Costa. The state of emergency, which makes tightening possible again, applies until at least the beginning of May.