Governments across Europe hurried to shore up their defenses against a new coronavirus outbreak on Friday, after South Africa disclosed the discovery of a new Covid-19 type that experts worry would jeopardize attempts to combat the epidemic.
In recent weeks, the continent has been hit by a wave of new cases and violent protests, forcing officials to resort to booster programs and extreme lockdowns to stop the flow as the continent’s death toll exceeded 1.5 million and it once again became the worldwide epicenter of an unending pandemic.
Scientists are now rushing to determine the impact of the new, extensively mutated strain, which is thought to be more contagious than Delta, the virus that brought the globe to its knees a year after it first appeared in central China.
“This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is under way to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility,” Britain’s health agency chief Jennie Harries said in a statement.
– Fears of riots in the Netherlands –
Countries throughout Europe were already intensifying booster efforts, enacting harsher bans, and targeting the unvaccinated as cases increased to record levels ahead of Thursday’s release by South African experts.
Authorities in the Netherlands were bracing for more riots ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s planned announcement on Friday that he will impose a partial lockdown as the country faced a serious medical bed crisis and infection levels at record highs.
Four days of anti-lockdown protests have erupted across the country, headed by people Rutte branded as “idiots,” with the worst incident being in the port city of Rotterdam, when police opened fire on protesters, hurting five people.
“We are keeping our eyes and ears open and we are prepared,” Rotterdam police spokesman Gijs van Nimwegen told AFP.
In recent days, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Portugal — which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world — have all announced additional steps to combat an outbreak of diseases that has been far worse than expected.
As the country’s death toll surpassed 100,000, German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an urgent warning to the country’s next administration on Thursday, saying “every day matters.”
To combat growing instances ahead of the approaching winter, Europe is ramping up its immunization campaign.
France made booster injections accessible to all people on Thursday, and the European Union’s drugs agency authorized vaccines for children aged five to eleven.