Europe

Mutated Virus Strains NHS Scares EU Bloc Again
Europe

Mutated Virus Strains NHS Scares EU Bloc Again

NHS Scares EU Bloc: As the UK becomes one of the first countries in Europe to undertake a massive Covid-19 immunization drive, its hospitals are still swamped with virus-infected numbers. 

The new virus strain is spreading faster than the previous one. It has only one agenda on its mind- how to wipe out human race. Now, Europe is wearier than ever. The Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine is said to be able to combat the new vaccine strain. But the numbers are consistently piling up in the UK, while the country vigorously immunizes 200,000 people a day.  

According to Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist who sits on the scientific council that advises the French government on Covid, “the new virus strain is an epidemic inside an existing epidemic. It is spreading faster than the earlier one.”

Currently, the strain of the new virus is being seen in 31 countries outside UK. The spread rate is unclear. The way it has put pressure on the National Health Services (NHS), is raising red flags everywhere in Europe. 

In comparison to the UK, Germany and France has way behind schedule to administer the vaccine. The UK has already covered over 2 million people per day since December 08, when it started its immunization drive. It has the goal of covering as many as 15 million people till the mid of the February. 

However, the new strain is coming with its own challenges. The spread rate is faster. According to the British government’s scientific advisers, the mutated Covid-19 is infecting people faster. Numbers of those infected is running to 100,000 a day. This has (probably) exceeded the spread rate of the first wave in the spring of 2019. ICU beds are reportedly filling rapidly and British PM Boris Johnson has said that oxygen supplies are running short in some areas.

Keeping in mind that the rest of the Europe has taken longer to even approve and then secure the requisite vaccine doses, its ability to handle the smarter mutating version of Corona virus is suspect. Worry is spreading to medical services in the rest of Europe already. 

Since December 2020, In Spain, the number of Covid patients in ICUs in Spain has climbed to 24 percent. Italian ICUs are also seeing more Covid patients, after a drop at the end of last month. In Germany too, intensive-care beds had never emptied — and while hospital admissions are down 8% from a peak at the beginning of the year, officials worry the new strain could quickly refill wards.

How various European nations are faring in their vaccination drives?
Europe

How various European nations are faring in their vaccination drives?

Vaccination Drives: As countries are racing towards vaccinating their population against Covid-19, Europe is off to a sluggish start, even though the European nations are experiencing soaring infection rate. European Union is coordinating strategy and procuring vaccines in bulk for the bloc nations, but at the end of day the member states are the ones who decide for individual vaccination drive. The EU Commission on Friday has agreed to buy an additional 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine. This will provide EU with Pfizer’s half global output for the year 2021. 

Vaccination drive has begun for various European nations. Let’s explore how it’s progressing in individual patches. 

GERMANY 

Germany’s scientists developed the very first Covid-19 vaccine – a definite point of national pride. But being an election year, vaccine and vaccination campaign has become more of an issue of political battleground. Recent surveys show that majority of German population is comfortable to get vaccinated. Vaccination drive in Germany began less than two weeks ago and by the weekend over 500,000 first doses of vaccine had been administered, with priority being given to people over 80 years and care home workers. But opposition party and coalition members is blaming Angela Merkel and her health minister Jens Spahn, the duo who have done a remarkable job till now in pandemic handling, of not utilizing the various vaccination centres. 

Germany shares 56 million doses of the EU order. Till now 1.3 million doses have been delivered and by end of month additional 2.68 million doses are expected to arrive. Germany has also ordered 30 million doses extra after recent Moderna approval by EU. Merkel’s government is sticking to its initial pledge of completing vaccination drive by summer end. 

FRANCE 

France has always boasted its remarkably big and effective health apparatus, but it has been exposed in a bad taste as the nation is off to a rather sluggish start of vaccination campaign against Covid-19. The nation has administered just 45,500 doses by Friday, a remarkably low number when compared to Germany, rendering it statistically nominal and meaningless. 

The slow start in France is confusing and questionable, specially with more than Pfizer vaccine doses waiting in the cold storage. The prime reason appears to be the centralized and cumbersome health bureaucracy in France – 45 page dossier of instructions must be read by staff at care homes to understand vaccination drive. This is to be followed by informed consent through doctor consultation, no less than five days before receiving vaccine. Another problem in France is the high scepticism among people against vaccine. 

A lot is at stake for Macron’s government, with opposition calling vaccine delay a “state scandal”

RUSSIA

In December, national pride and medical urgency pushed Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine rollout, even as the vaccines were under trial. Initially, Sputnik was being offered to the priority group of healthcare and education workers, but the list quickly expanded for the eligible groups for the first dose.

But despite national pride a big riding point in Russia, polls by Levada Centre showed that only 38% of priority group respondents were willing to get the vaccine. Early bold claims around vaccine are the main reason for increased and widespread nervousness and scepticism about getting vaccinated in Russian population. 

SWEDEN 

Sweden performance has been praiseworthy. Its slow infection rate is attributed by many to its no-lockdown policy, but still a vaccination drive is crucial. Despite the nation being almost two weeks into its vaccination programme, there is no official data available as of how many people have been vaccinated till date. The Public Health Agency of Sweden says that the process of compiling data is underway from nation’s 21 regional health authorities, that are vaccinating the entire adult population by 26th June. The date isn’t random but marks Sweden’s biggest annual public holiday weekend. 

As Europe is witnessing massive spike of coronavirus cases and a rampant variant on a spread, a rapid and effective vaccination programme across nations becomes more important than ever. 

Amid vaccine and new restrictions, Coronavirus continues to scare Europe
Europe

Amid vaccine and new restrictions, Coronavirus continues to scare Europe

Coronavirus continues: “The EU has reached an agreement with Pfizer BioNtech to have another 300 million doses of the vaccine against Covid-19, reaching a total order of 600 million doses”. The president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated at a press conference a few hours ago. She added that a vaccination strategy means that priorities must be set. “And as indicated by the World Health Organization, we recommended to vaccinate first people over 65 years-old.” Von der Leyen also specified that no State can negotiate in parallel the agreement conducted by the EU Commission with the producers of vaccines on behalf of the 27 governments. President von der Leyen affirmed she was pleased that all Member States are doing their utmost to move forward with their vaccination plans, but “we need to increase quickly.”

The Robert Koch Institute recorded yesterday a new death record in Germany. In the last 24 hours, according to the daily Covid bulletin, 1,188 deaths have been reported. So far, the maximum number was recorded on Dec. 30, with 1,129 deaths. There are 31,849 new infections. Experts reiterate that the data could also be explained by a delay in reporting due to the Christmas holidays. On January 5, the German chancellor Angela Merkel decided to extend the lockdown in the Federal Republic. Protesters attacked an anti-Covid vaccination center in Rostock in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. According to investigators, the attack took place shortly after midnight.

Today the Stockholm Parliament approved a law, which provides the government new powers to curb the Covid-19 spread in Sweden. The new law, which goes into effect Sunday, will allow the government to close shops, malls, or public transport. The government can also impose limits on the number of people allowed in certain specific public places and restrictions on public gatherings. In most cases, the new restrictions’ violations will lead to a fine, which was previously not possible.

Until now, Sweden had never imposed a lockdown, unlike European countries. A few weeks ago, the Stockholm Government began to tighten measures in the face of a second wave stronger than expected. When asked why this law only ten months after the outbreak started, Health Minister Lena Hallengren told broadcaster SVT that “we didn’t need it in the spring.”

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced yesterday that all activities currently blocked in France “will remain so at least until the end of January.” Therefore, bars, restaurants, cinemas, museums, and gyms remain closed and will not reopen from January 20, as had been hypothesized by President Emmanuel Macron at the end of the lockdown at the end of November.

The ski lifts do not even reopen. For bars and restaurants, closed since October, the reopening prospect is postponed at least to mid-February.  The premier also announced that the night curfew – already in force in 15 districts – will be extended for another ten days. And the borders with the United Kingdom will remain closed until further notice.

EU regulator authorises Moderna Covid-19 vaccine
Europe

EU regulator authorises Moderna Covid-19 vaccine

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine: On Wednesday, European Union regulator authorised the use of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for the bloc. It is the second vaccine approved by the 27-member Union. The decision came amidst the rising criticism regarding slow pace of vaccination, which was required to shield 450 million population of the region. The announcement was made after European Medicines Agency gave a go ahead to the Moderna vaccine with an aim to increase number of vaccination doses available for the bloc.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “We are providing more COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans. With the Moderna vaccine, the second one now authorized in the EU, we will have a further 160 million doses. And more vaccines will come.”

“This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency,” said EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke. “It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO.”

Last month, EU provided similar authorisation to US vaccine developer Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. In case of both the vaccines, people are required to take two shots at the gap of about two-three weeks. As per the existing deal with Pfizer-BioNTech, EU would be purchasing 300 million doses. But with the current approvals granted to Moderna, EU would avail 80 million more doses, with an option to further extend the order to 80 million extra doses. Besides, Moderna gained an upper hand over rest of the vaccines as it is easier to handle, transport and did require ultra-frozen temperatures for the storage.

Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have been labelled safe to use as they both employ mRNA vaccine technology, which imply that the vaccine doesn’t contain any coronavirus. Instead, the medicine uses a certain type of genetic code which signals the immune system when it contacts a spike protein on the surface of the virus, about to attack.

Welcoming the move, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said that the vaccine authorization “will ensure that 460 million doses will be rolled out with increasing speed in the EU, and more will come. Member States have to ensure that the pace of vaccinations follows suit.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also commended the decision and wrote on Twitter that approval of the Moderna vaccine “is another important step in the fight against the pandemic. This means we have more vaccine available in the EU and can fight the pandemic faster.”

Moderna said that it was working towards producing about 500 to 600 million doses in 2021 to meet the global demand. On Monday, the pharmaceutical company said it is “continuing to invest and add staff to build up to potentially 1 billion doses for 2021.”

What Has Kept Netherlands From Corona Vaccine Inoculation Drive?
Europe

What Has Kept Netherlands From Corona Vaccine Inoculation Drive?

Corona Vaccine Inoculation Drive: Netherlands’ healthcare system is so gripped in bureaucracy that it is finding it difficult to justify the eminent delay in the provision of vaccinations to the Dutch.  The country has started to receive a trickle of the vaccine that was already being used in the UK for inoculations. 

An emergency debate in the parliament recently saw the opposition blaming the government for the eminent delays. This comes as a surprise because the country is well known for excellent health care budgets and a healthy life-work index. Apparently, the health care facilities in Netherlands have not been able to manage the surging number of cases of corona virus infected patients. 

The Dutch Health Minister, Hugo De Jonge has justified the delays, as Dutch choice to ‘go slow and pay it safe’ than act hastily as the UK did by cutting corners and wishing for a quick solution.  The EU Commission took rather long to zero on the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccination. 

This week, Mr. Jonge changed his stance and accepted that ‘over-agility’ could cost Dutch lives after all. Dutch was banking on the Astra Zeneca Oxford led vaccine whose efficacy rate varies between 60-90percent. It can be stored in normal refrigeration. Netherlands had not made any arrangements to accommodate the next better vaccine candidate, Pfizer or Moderna for that matter. The latter had arrived in end of December. 

Infrastructural and then IT system glitches is what has delayed the Netherlands to start a country wide inoculation drive. They now plan to start theirs from January 18, 2021. 

Netherlands was one of the few nations to have used rather relaxed lockdown norms. Their mask mandatory ruling has only been put into effect in December. The country is now fighting record high number of contraction rates. The first to be inoculated will be health care workers. The Dutch health ministry has confirmed that an initial 30,000 vaccines will be made available for a select group of healthcare workers.

The eminent delay has been attributed to primitive IT systems that are now being upgraded. Also, the ministry has confirmed that they are spending energy in training call-centre staff on the scripts to use with people booking their vaccinations. 

Conte’s government under coercion over economic recovery plan for Italy
Europe

Conte’s government under coercion over economic recovery plan for Italy

Recovery plan for Italy: Giuseppe Conte led Italian government is in midst of its future deciding panorama as confrontation between Conte and former prime minister and his coalition ally, Matteo Renzi escalates. 

Renzi has been having an upper hand in this coalition government. The former prime minister has repeatedly threatened of pulling out his Italia Viva party from ruling party provided certain conditions. Renzi is pressurizing government to cease its control over the country’s secret services and that it must escalate the Covid-19 vaccines distribution, as Italy struggles to stay afloat with UK coronavirus variant cases being found amid the new wave of cases. Renzi is also coercing government to change its tactics of rebooting fragile economy of Italy.     

Conte has been resisting the increasing pressure from coalition allies but is now holding a meeting with party leaders. The key agenda of this meeting will possibly be reshuffling of government. On January 7, Conte will be seeking his ministers’ support for government’s economic recovery plan. This, as is expected, may prompt Renzi to withdraw Italia Viva party from coalition leading to government crisis. 

Renzi has maintained that his ministers are not a part of government for hearsay but because they have strong ideological grounds and that their ideas carry weight. He said, “If these ideas are not liked, then we are not like the others – we will leave our seats. I understand that in times of populism this sounds extravagant, but you can do politics even without institutional positions.”

Renzi is mainly concerned about the spending of yet to receive EU recovery fund of €209bn. Italy’s share is the largest among all bloc member nations. He said, “I’m in favour of spending it all and spending it well. But if someone wants to spend it badly, they can do so without us.” 

Renzi’s coalition party is not the only one standing cross corners with Conte. Conte is also facing fierce challenge from the far-right Brothers of Italy, the opposition party, which is reportedly calling for vote of confidence and is organizing a petition for it. Over last year, the Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia parties have risen in popularity significantly. 

But despite of Renzi’s maneuvers it is highly unlikely that it could lead to new elections. This is attributed to Conte’s high support among Italian voters. Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor shares his analysis, “I think Renzi wants to create a reshuffle, to show that he has an independent voice that can produce change. He has a small presence in parliament and when you are in a situation of relative weakness, you need to stir things up.”

EU Bloc Gets Flake Over Less Vaccine Procurement Numbers
Europe

EU Bloc Gets Flake Over Less Vaccine Procurement Numbers

EU Bloc Gets Flake: As well-oiled world economies comes in terms with failed administrative decisions, European Union is also facing similar music. The bloc is now being criticized for mismanagement of procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate, a part of which was developed in Germany itself. 

EU bloc is falling short of the approved Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine candidate that provides 97percent efficacy. However, there has been fresh scare over the newly mutating virus. The Covid-19 virus is mutating and new strains have started to enter some parts of Europe. UK claims it has been able to control the spread; but the virus has started to find its way into other countries outside Europe too. 

Attacking the European Commission for a slow vaccine procurement process is Markus Söder, the leader of Germany’s Christian Social Union. Making a public statement he said, “The time factor is crucial. If Israel, the U.S. or the U.K. are far ahead of us in vaccination, they will also benefit economically. The question of how we get through corona economically is closely related to how quickly we get through with vaccination.”

Söder’s statement could win him brownie points as he runs the race for the chancellor job in national elections scheduled for next September. But he has a valid point as he points out that “It is difficult to explain that a very good vaccine is developed in Germany but is vaccinated more quickly elsewhere.”

EU bloc took extensively long to give approvals to the vaccine candidate. This could have just been a step of caution misunderstood. Undeniably, the pandemic has the political and leadership capabilities of many nations to test. Many countries were not prepared to handle a pandemic like situation that devoured most of the year 2020. Many are still learning from their mistakes; EU is not going to be an exception to this process of evolution. 

But lack of vaccines and a new strain of mutation could mean lockdown in Europe again, that is going to hit non-essential businesses and extend till end of January 2021. 

The Poles are leaving the Church- World Reviews
Europe

The Poles are leaving the Church- World Reviews

The Church: The memories of the squares full of young faithful in Poland, during the World Youth Days of Pope Wojtyla, are now a distant memory. Cardinals, bishops, and parish priests fear a future of empty churches abandoned by young people in Poland. The great pope Giovanni Paolo II country, an anti-Nazi partisan and later the first “global pope” and leader of the non-violent global revolution against communism. That was unveiled by the most authoritative and unsuspected source, the Statistics Institute of the Polish Catholic Church (ISKK) confirming the data of a growing trend of requests for apostasy, especially among young and old in the educated European urban middle classes. Just 9-9.2 percent of young Poles say they believe in the Catholic Institution or have a good opinion of it.

It is a historical turning point that will mark 2021 in the largest eastern member state of the European Union, NATO, and the free world. From the glorious centuries of the Kingdom of Lithuania and Poland and the Polish armies that stopped the Turks at the gates of Vienna, to the brutal partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary; from criminal aggression and exterminating Nazi occupation in the decades of Communism and after, the Church has always played the role of refuge, critical voice and culture of the Nation and civil society’s protector.

“Notes from Poland” reported that the ISKK started to work on a study and census of Catholics and apostates for the first time since 2010. At that time, there were just 459 requests for apostasy, today polls and investigations reporting by media of every color herald an all-time high. Obtaining apostasy and leaving the Church today has become easy. But a crowdsourced “apostasy map” conducted in early December asking people to share their experiences of leaving the church in various parts of Poland, found that only 6.7% reported having had a difficult time receiving their apostasy certificate, while almost 76% had found it easy.

Just show up at the parish or diocese with an identity document and a baptismal certificate. Accompanying witnesses, contrary to yesterday, are no longer needed. “As far as we know, at the moment, the apostasies are still well below the number of baptisms, but the trend of farewell to the Church is increasing,” says the director of the Institute, Professor Monsignor Wojciech Sadlon. Several sources explain with solid arguments what is happening in Poland. Young people and the modern global and hard-working pro-European urban middle classes are disgusted by the cleric.

Members of the left-wing Spring (Wiosna) party launched an “Apostasy Counter” website to act as a “census of people who have left the church in Poland.” It demands people to email a copy of their apostasy certificate. Their anonymized details and year of apostasy are public on the website. The counter is approaching 1,000 entries, with the most commonly recorded year of apostasy being 2020. Some who have sought apostasy in Poland – where, according to Statistics Poland (GUS), a government agency, 92% of people are Roman Catholics – say that the process is not made easy by the church.

The disappointed faithful reproaches and aspiring apostates are precise: The Church has covered and continues to cover an enormous number of cases of paedophile abuse committed by religious. The institution is a spearhead of the hostile campaign of the national-American sovereign government freely elected and led by the Prawo I Sprawiedlywosc (PIS), Law and Justice, of the historical leader of the right, deputy premier and charismatic number one, an ally of Orbán, towards the struggle of the movement of women against the new laws and constitutional changes that prohibit abortion even in the case of lethal malformations of the foetus. Many Polish faithful have also had enough of the episcopate’s implicit but very perceptible hostility to Pope Francis’ line. The distrust of ecclesiastical institutions is such that it even leads to the false belief that the Church evades taxes.

Difficult and tricky days ahead as UK adjusts to new EU rules post Brexit trade agreement
Europe

Difficult and tricky days ahead as UK adjusts to new EU rules post Brexit trade agreement

New EU Rules: UK must brace and prepare itself for days ahead full of bumps as it gets in grip with the new EU rules. Minister Michael Gove has warned the UK businesses and travelers of “practical and procedural changes” when Brexit transition period will end on December 31. 

The post-Brexit trade deal was unanimously approved by the 27 EU member states, making it effective January 1 onwards. However, European Parliament will vote for the motion in January, the EU rules can be applicable provisionally. UK MPs in the House of Commons and the House of Lords are set to debate and vote for it on Wednesday, December 30. 

Gove said, “The nature of our new relationship with the EU – outside the Single Market and Customs Union – means that there are practical and procedural changes that businesses and citizens need to get ready for. We know that there will be some disruption as we adjust to new ways of doing business with the EU, so it is vital that we all take the necessary action now.” 

UK has urged its businesses to understand the new rules regarding import and export of goods properly, including the rules specifically for trading with Northern Ireland, and also consider how they plan to make EU trade customs declarations. 

As UK is entering new trade agreement with the bloc, measures are being taken across the country to prepare for it. Scotland government has entered in new lease to use former airfield located in Dumfries and Galloway as emergency lorry park. This will be used for up to 240 vehicles in case of any disruption at Cairnryan port, near Stranraer. Traffic measures have been implemented in Wales on key road leading to Holyhead port. Travelers from Great Britain entering Northern Ieland will have to declare cash of over €10,000 or more starting January 1. 

The trade deal was reached after months of negotiations and delays on key issues including fishing rights and business rules. The Brexit deal has been agreed upon few days before December 31 deadline. This would allow for trade between UK and EU without extra taxes on goods. 

UK had exited from EU in 2016 after voting, and left actually on January 31, 2020. However, the leaders from both sides had until end of the year to chalk out a trade deal. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new trade agreement will offer new freedoms to people who might have felt left behind. But fishery sector leaders have accused Johnson, who is already walking over thin ice, of ‘caving in’ and sacrificing the interests of this sector. Labour too has called it a ‘thin deal’ that would require more efforts to protect jobs of UK people. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak reassured London that it would not be affected adversely by the deal. On the contrary he said that the government would be “doing a few things a bit differently and looking at how we make the City of London the most attractive place to list new companies anywhere in the world.” Mr. Sunak called the deal a unifying moment for the country. 

Why Has Hungary Been Left Without Covid-19 Vaccines?
Europe

Why Has Hungary Been Left Without Covid-19 Vaccines?

Hungary Been Left: While the world frantically awaits a Corona virus vaccine with the strongest efficacy rate, Hungarians are skeptical about receiving a jab. They are not feeling prepared of being immunized, reports have confirmed. The blame is being redirected towards Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán an, who seemed to have forgotten to get the requisite vaccine into the country in time. 

In his attempt to show off that Hungary could go against the rest of the EU set vaccination strategy, he has left the public unprepared for vaccination completely. The rest of the EU is started to receive the vaccinations and has already started a stagewise rollout on December 27, 2020. 

As Hungary has been singing its own tune, it had decided to disregard altogether the European Commission’s plan for a coordinated bloc-wide rollout. The state of affairs is quite ironic to the claims made by Orban a few months ago where he accused European regulators for ‘taking too long’ to approve the vaccine. He had been confident that Hungary would be the first country in Europe to use Russian and Chinese shots.

Hungarians would like to stick with what the bloc is prescribing as a trusted vaccine. Orban’s own credibility is in choppy waters amongst his own. 

A public poll conducted by Pulzus for Napi.hu in November had confirmed that almost 53 percent Hungarians would go with the EU approved vaccine candidate, while only 11 percent would use a Russian or Chinese vaccine. The state of affairs remains the same as the year comes to an end. Even health professionals worry that vaccine skepticism might affect all vaccination efforts.

Many critics feel that Orban has been preoccupied flexing in political muscle that he has thrown the lives of the Hungarians into the gallows. With a new strain of virus already destabilizing travel and New Year plans, Hungarians have their own fears about Orban’s intentions. 

It has been further confirmed that infact, Orban has been too busy pushing the Russian vaccine Sputnik IV that has not even gone through significant human trials. While researchers feel it is a good attempt, but can’t be used for mass immunization. 

Currently, medical practitioners are suggesting that the government should still push for a large-scale public health campaign. This will reassure the public about the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines. With multiple vaccine candidates flooding the market, it is no doubt that the Hungarian population is feeling even more lost and lonely that they were a few months back, when Orban decided to veto the EU led stimulus package decision. 

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