The fear of a second wave of COVID-19 in Europe is growing. The EU, therefore, calls on all member states to prepare in a coordinated manner. What is the current situation in the leading EU countries?
Preparation is Key
With a second wave considered somewhat inevitable, it is all the more important for all EU members to prepare in a way that immediate responses and measures can be taken in a worst-case scenario. The latter is the reason why the European Commission had previously urged member states to conduct increased COVID-19 testing as well as contact tracking. Besides the current virus, member states also need to prepare for seasonal flu — which in combination with COVID-19 — could increase pressure on health systems across Europe severely. In summary: a second wave response must be coordinated across the union, and the most relevant states need to set the tone. What does the current status quo look like?
Germany’s COVID-19 strategy has been praised internationally, in part due to its large test capacity. Approximately 176,000 test are conducted per day. Moreover, the official warning app was downloaded almost 16 million times, which corresponds to around 20 percent of the population. In addition, tests are now being carried out at airports in order to get the virus back under control. If the second wave occurred, Germany would be even better prepared than the first time when disputes between the federal states slowed down protective measures.
In France, the number of new infections has increased significantly since the start of the holiday. The number of reproductions is over one nationwide, and even over two in tourist regions such as Brittany. As the second wave seems more and more likely, mouth and nose protection in closed public spaces has been mandatory since this week. Unlike during the first breakout in March, sufficient quantities of masks now exist, as France now possesses over 500 million. Meanwhile, the number of intensive care beds has also been increased from 5,000 to 12,000.
While there was a dramatic shortage of tests at the beginning of the epidemic, French Health Minister Olivier Veran now assures that he has a capacity of 700,000 tests per week. However, only around 200,000 tests are currently carried out each week. This is too little in the opinion of the government, which is now calling on the French to be tested for COVID-19 on even the slightest suspicion.
It is questionable whether the “protect, test, isolate” strategy works. In any case, the French COVID-19 app does not significantly contribute to the fight as only three percent of the population downloaded it.
In Italy, the infection process is largely under control; in many regions, there are no new daily infections. After the March shock, Italy claims to have made provisions and significantly increased its test capacities, which were a severe problem at the beginning of the crisis.
According to the government, the Italian regions can now carry out a total of 92,000 corona tests per day. Around half of them are currently being conducted every day. As soon as the infection numbers in an area increase again, it can be declared a local restricted area temporarily.
The Corona app Immuni is also expected to make an appearance in autumn. It has been available for download since the beginning of June and works similarly to the German warning app. However, too few citizens have downloaded Immuni, so far there are only around four million downloads of over 62 million people. As soon as there are more infections in autumn, it is hoped that this number will increase.
Sweden has massively expanded its test capacities. Intensive contact tracking is planned, but a concept has not yet been implemented. The change of heart in the tests has meanwhile led to a sharp increase in new infections — right on time for a vacation.
Until recently, Swedish tourists had to pass a negative test if they wanted to travel to Germany or were going to quarantine. Antibody tests are free in the capital, Stockholm. There is no uniform warning app, nor are masks required.
In Denmark, everyone has been able to be tested for some time. Twenty-seven thousand tests were carried out last week alone. The official warning app, Smittestop, was downloaded 619,000 times by the end of June, which corresponds to around ten per cent of the population. Unlike in Germany, wearing masks at specific locations is not mandatory at this point.
Austria relaxed as one of the first EU countries to take protective measures in April. However, recently the number of new infections increased, and the government has expanded the mask requirement again. The Austrian Corona traffic light system is scheduled to go into trial operation in August. Depending on the traffic light level — from green to red — measures should be imposed in the districts. At the same time, the authorities are increasing the number of tests. According to Austrian Minister of Health Rudolf Anschober, it is now at a record level, with an average of around 10,000 tests per day, with just under nine million inhabitants. The Stop Corona app, on the other hand, is moderately popular. It was downloaded almost 800,000 times, which, based on the population, is about half as often as the German app.
In the Netherlands, 30,000 people could be tested per day, but only 75,000 per week and around 10,700 per day are currently being conducted due to logistical issues. The CoronaMelder app is due to be launched in September. After infection numbers soared this week, the government warned that stricter measures may need to be locally implemented in various parts of the country.