The intensity of COVID-19 has initially “cooled down” in many nations around the world after the vaccination campaign has been deployed on a large scale. However, in some EU member states the situation remains serious and the EU is struggling to overcome the third wave of the pandemic. Contrary to the trend of easing social distancing, Hungary, France and the Czech Republic are the European countries tending to tighten prevention and control measures as the number of infections has increased recently. Statistics show that, while most Western European countries have recorded a declining or stable number of cases, about 100-200 per one million people per day, the figure is at around 300 in France and more than 600 in the Czech Republic.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran stated that in the next four to six weeks, France will maintain a nightly curfew and lockdown measures such as closing pubs, restaurants and museums, in a bid to protect the pandemic prevention and control efforts. Meanwhile, Gergely Gulyas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said that Hungary has decided to extend a partial lockdown with infections expected to rise in the next two weeks. He highlighted that the next two weeks will be particularly difficult as the country must cope with the third COVID-19 wave. The Czech Republic and Hungary have taken measures to increase vaccine availability for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign amidst many opinions arguing that the EU’s licensing process is too slow. Relatively strict control measures in response to the pandemic have also been maintained in Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently emphasised that Germany is still in the third wave of the pandemic, while a local health official warned that without the maintenance of current measures, the third wave will be extremely difficult, and even uncontrollable.
A major problem currently facing the EU countries is that despite the complicated development of the pandemic, the progress of COVID-19 vaccine coverage in the bloc is quite slow. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen recently stated that 26 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been delivered and 70% of adults in 27 EU countries will be vaccinated by the end of this summer. However, she admitted the failure in the EU’s process of approving and implementing the COVID-19 vaccination program, noting that the bloc has learned lessons about the delay in the licensing of vaccines as well as the overoptimistic psychology of EU officials about the production and delivery progress of vaccines. If compared with the UK, which has left the “European common roof”, the EU’s vaccination progress is disappointing. While the EU is still struggling with the approval and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program, in February, about 30% of the UK population was vaccinated, thus creating a positive effect for the country’s important economic sectors.
To combat the pandemic and soon recover the economy, the European Commissioner for Health recently urged countries to speed up vaccination and accelerate the screening and decoding of the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence in service of the more detailed supervision of variants. The “EU family” is also expected to study the proposal for a digital vaccine passport (allowing people with a certificate of vaccination to travel freely) in order to facilitate intra-bloc travel and salvage the upcoming summer tourism season. However, this proposal is still under controversy which shows no sign of coming to an end. Meanwhile, the head of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Andrea Ammon warned the risk of SARS-CoV-2 being likely to persist for a long time despite the slowdown in global infection. According to her, the world needs to prepare for a scenario that the virus will still “stick to” people and experts may have to continue to produce vaccines to prevent the disease, similar to with the seasonal flu.
Given the emergence of more and more new variants of SARS-CoV-2 with a greater danger level, the possibility of having to “co-exist” with COVID-19 is increasing and this is a long-term challenge for the EU as well as for the whole of humanity. This fact is demanding the EU and other countries worldwide to take faster response in pandemic fight and adapt better and more flexibly to soon bring the economy out of the “dark period” caused by the pandemic.