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Sensemaker: Covid in Europe

Sensemaker: Covid in Europe

What just happened

Long stories short

  • US officials arrested the main researcher for the Steele dossier on Trump and charged him with lying to the FBI about his sources.
  • UK opposition parties discussed joining forces to field a single “anti-sleaze” candidate against whichever Conservative stands to replace the disgraced Owen Paterson following his resignation as MP for North Shropshire.
  • A Covid pill developed by Pfizer cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death in vulnerable adults by 89 per cent, according to a clinical trial carried out by the US company (worse news below).

Covid in Europe

The virus is back. Ten months after European Covid vaccination programmes started in earnest and three months after a summer break when they seemed to be working well, most metrics are heading in the wrong direction. Record case numbers have been reported in the past week in Germany and Croatia. When Russian numbers are included, case and death numbers for the continent are running three times higher than in the US.

What went wrong?

By the numbers:
500,000 – new Covid-related deaths that Europe could face this winter, according to the World Health Organization.
60 – Europe’s percentage share of the world’s new Covid cases in the past week.
250,000 – rolling average of new cases in Europe, per day.
3,600 – rolling average of Covid-related deaths in Europe, per day.

Where?

Germany recorded a record 33,949 new cases on Thursday. Jens Spahn, the health minister, called the new wave of infection a pandemic of the unvaccinated and there’s no doubt vaccine hesitancy is behind it: 65 per cent of Germans have been vaccinated compared with 81 per cent of Spaniards and 88 of Portuguese. But breakthrough infection numbers are substantial too: 118,000 of 55 million vaccinated Germans have caught the virus.

Russia. New Russian cases peaked at 40,993 on 1 November. Daily deaths peaked yesterday at 1,195. The country is in the grip of a fourth wave worse than any previous ones and there’s little sign yet that a weeklong national holiday ending on Sunday has worked as a circuit-breaker. So some regions are taking next week off too. 

Italy. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is under control at 4,496 (compared with 38,866 for the UK) but Trieste recorded a spike of 800 cases last week linked directly to anti-vaccine protesters who filled the streets unmasked and apparently infected each other. “Enough idiocy,” the regional president complained. 

Croatia recorded a record 6,310 cases yesterday. Ukraine and Poland also have high and rising case numbers, while Romania’s peaked late last month after one of the worst spikes on the planet.

Why? 

Besides lagging vaccination programmes, the WHO blames a relaxation in mask-wearing and social distancing. It’s not rocket science, in other words; just weariness with what was working. German epidemiologists also blame inadequate testing, which is ironic considering the Robert Koch Institute masterminded a national diagnostic effort that kept the first wave at bay in Germany last year even as it devastated Italy and the UK.

The WHO’s emergencies director called the new surge “a warning shot for the world”. The world already had a warning shot in a far worse surge in Asia this summer, and paid little heed.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Covid cover-up
For months, Tanzania denied it had a Covid problem. Many Tanzanians denied the very existence of the virus. Last year its president, John Magufuli, said Covid was a “satanic myth” promoted by imperialist powers. He rejected vaccines, blocked journalists from entering the country and provided no data to the World Health Organization. Then he died; officially of heart failure, but probably of Covid. The official estimate of Covid deaths is 724. Excess mortality figures suggest it’s closer to 69,000. The Wall Street Journal has been back over what it calls the “world’s most blatant Covid-19 coverup”, and photographed a country now struggling to make up for Mafafuli’s negligence. Tanzania’s vaccination rate stands at 1.6 per cent.


New things technology, science, engineering

Abbatars
Abba, the Swedish pop group that split in 1982, released its first new album in 40 years. It’s called Voyage and has 10 tracks. “It doesn’t sound dated,” Abba fan Emilie De Laere told France24 at a listening party in Stockholm. “It doesn’t sound 40 years ago.” The group was formed of Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid — hence Abba – who at a concert in London in May will unveil digital avatars that resemble their 1979 selves. The holograms were developed in partnership with Star Wars creator George Lucas’s special effects company and will outlive their muses. Bjorn and Benny say Voyage really is their last record.

For more, do read this week’s Creative Sensemaker.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Cricket racism
The chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Roger Hutton, resigned and apologised for the way his club handled racism experienced by a former player. Azeem Rafiq had told the press that “institutional racism” at the club made him suicidal, triggering an internal investigation that found Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”. But the club downplayed the report’s findings (describing the abuse as “inappropriate behaviour”), refused to hand an unredacted copy to Rafiq, and decided not to pursue any disciplinary action against any club employees or representatives. When the report finally emerged, the club was suspended from hosting international cricket and threatened with additional sanctions. The pressure built until Hutton’s resignation today. He warned there’ll be more resignations in what’s shaping up to be cricket’s reckoning with institutional racism.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Taxi crisis
The Licensed Private Car Hire Association, which represents taxi drivers in Britain, estimated that the industry is short of 160,000 of its previously 300,000-strong workforce. Many drivers left the industry during pandemic lockdowns when transport demand plummeted. Some are trying to get back into it, but complain of costly licensing and registration requirements, and criminal and medical checks. “We have had calls from Inverness in Scotland, right down to Cornwall,” Steve Wright, who chairs the Association, tells the BBC, “with people saying they cannot get drivers and they cannot get licences quickly enough.” The shortage has raised concerns over public safety: women having to walk home alone in the dark or share cars with strangers. And it may get worse if the government’s response, as with the shortage of lorry drivers, is to ease licensing requirements and checks.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Cocaine climate
At the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Colombian president Iván Duque told the FT that “[i]n order to produce one hectare of coca, almost two hectares of tropical jungle are destroyed in Colombia”. He criticised cocaine users in other countries “who are very avid and very talkative when speaking in favour of the environment”, but don’t see how their drug consumption is destroying the environment. Some 143,000 hectares of Colombia are given over to coca leaves, the key ingredient in cocaine. Despite the government’s attempts to eradicate the crop, it has spread into national parks and indigenous reserves. It’s a reminder that our dependence on fossil fuels isn’t the human addiction driving climate change.

For the latest from Cop26, just opt in to our daily Net Zero Sensemaker.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Produced and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Sergei Bobylev/TASS, Ericky Boniphace/AFP, Jan Kruger, Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images