An Update On How Are Other European Countries At Dealing With Covid-19Highlights from The Pat Kenny Show
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- 24 Feb 2021
We hear how other European countries are coping with Covid-19 with Thomas Sparrow, Deutsche Welle Political and Security Correspondent ,Hugh Schofield BBC Paris Correspondent and Graham Keeley, Spain Correspondent for The Independent.
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The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Following the announcement made by A.I.M., Martin, yesterday that our level five restrictions in Ireland will last until at least April 5th, we're going to check in with correspondents from Spain, Germany and France to see how our European neighbours are coping with their challenges of containment and vaccination.
Political and security correspondent for Daija Vello Thomas Spurrell is on the line. Thomas, good morning. Good morning, Pat.
Now let's talk about getting back to school. Which schools are open, how many, what age groups are starting this week?
Kids in most German federal states are returning to school, in particular primary schools and day-care. This is something that in Germany is up to each federal state. So it's not something that can be decided by the federal government. It is something that is basically decided at a regional level, depending on how the coronavirus situation is locally. But in most German states, the younger children are going back to school. There are different strategies that are being implemented there, for example, alternating classes.
So making sure that kids only go on certain days to school or dividing classes and making sure that kids from different groups don't meet each other. Those are again up to different states here in Germany. And the strategies that are being implemented are individual, let's say those who favour it. Those who say that kids should be able to go back to school are saying that that's very important for their education, also for their mental health. Also for, you know, for parents who have been strange in the last few months because of all this homeschooling, as it's described here, those who are against kids going back to school say that this could have a negative impact on the overall coronavirus situation in the country and could increase numbers once again.
Now, have they laid down any criteria by which schools may open, for example, the rate of infection in a particular state?
Well, the rate of infection here, there's one important number that has been discussed, and that's 50 infections per 100000 in the last seven days. That was the decision in the last few weeks that led to this first sort of round of opening. But any further opening in Germany in other areas will be even stricter. It will go down to 35 infections per 100000 in seven days. But again, when you're talking about schools, when we're talking in general about education, it is something that is ultimately up to each regional leader.
So if a regional leaders say in a state in the West with a low incidence of coronavirus numbers, says that kids are going to go back to school in certain grades, then he has the authority to actually implement those changes. Obviously, leaders are trying to coordinate with the German chancellor, with the federal government, but it's ultimately up to the regions. And that's why there is has been described here as sort of patchwork of measures with kids going back to school.
But that figure of 50 cases per 100000. A rolling five day average.
To give you some idea what's happening in Ireland, we are more than four times that, our national average. We are talking about opening the schools to some extent next Monday. That could not happen in Germany at the level that we are.
Well, at a national if you look at a national level here in Germany, the incidence now in this seven day 100000 situation is around 60 65, which is much, much better than, say, December or January. But it's still way too high for the goals that the federal government and regional governments have set to try and continue opening things in Germany. Because what the German chancellor has stressed is that there will be specific groups of reopening. That's part of the German strategy.
That, by the way, is being discussed as of yesterday in a working group led by the head of the German chancellor, Helga Brown, with some of his regional counterparts. But there are three key areas. One of them is education. The second one is personal contact. So how many people can meet one household and so on. And the third one is economy and culture. So when exactly a restaurant will be able to reopen, when will the museum be able to reopen?
And it's important to stress that now here in Germany, only essential shops are open. So everything else has been shut for a very long time. And the next step, the next immediate step that will be will reopen, which is very controversial, by the way, is hairdressers. So hairdressers in Germany will be allowed to open as of the 1st of March. And then the week after that, there will be another one of these very long, very difficult meetings between the German chancellor and the regional governments to decide the next steps and the next steps, as I say, will be with this.
Thirty five new infections per 100000 inhabitants in seven days.
So these levels are very low by the standards in Ireland.
And yet, as I say, we're opening up the schools and the other areas of the economy. If, for example, the rate the 70 per 100000 rate, which is 65 or thereabouts at the moment, if that were to increase, would that put the plans on hold?
Yes, that would put the plans on hold. I will explain very briefly why this has been decided, this 35, because the German chancellor and in general the German government has stressed that they do not want to go back to a situation where they open for two weeks. Then they see that the numbers go up again, then they have to close everything again. So they want to make sure, for example, that this 35 incidents rate can be held for at least one or two weeks before announcing the next step.
So essentially what they are saying is that they prefer to keep things closed for a little bit longer. That was a reason that was announced why they announced this extension of the lockdown a few weeks ago instead of announcing opening and then closing again, everything in in two or three weeks time. The main concern now, and I also think it's the main concern you have over there, are these variants, in particular the variant that was first found in the United Kingdom.
What was said here by the German health minister, Jinchuan is that that variant accounts now for 22 percent of samples that have been analysed here in Germany. These are very, very high number for German standards. And that's the reason why now German authorities have a big dilemma. On the one hand, there is a lot of pressure for things to reopen, for businesses to reopen, restaurants to reopen and so on, schools to reopen as well completely. On the other hand, there is a lot of concern, and that's why there is also some pressure for German authorities to continue some of those restrictions.
And that's where they will have to find some middle ground, how to make sure that these variants do not increase again, the number of infections and deaths and how to make sure, on the other hand, that Germany can reopen safely.
How is your vaccine rollout going? What percentage of the population has been vaccinated and the priorities that are laid down? Is it pretty much as in Ireland, for example, where at the very elderly and nursing homes and the health care workers on the front line that these people are vaccinated first?
It's being described here as painfully slow. It's even being described as something that could affect Angela Merkel's legacy in certain parts because it has been extremely problematic for the German government. It is obviously a reason for hope for many. And that remains it's been described as the way out of the pandemic. But at the same time, it is a big headache for German authorities. There are problems in the organisation, which again is up to German federal states. Up to now, they have been over five million vaccinations.
That's, if I'm not mistaken, around four percent of Germany's population around four percent, which is lower than other European countries. German government, the German authorities have said they're trying to increase that a lot. One problem that. We are facing now in particular is with the AstraZeneca vaccine, because there seem to be individual situations where people do not want to get vaccinated with the AstraZeneca because they believe that it is not as effective as the other two vaccines that have been authorised at the European level.
And that's why now what we're seeing here in Germany is a push by the German government, by German health authorities, explaining on social media, on television, everywhere they can, that the AstraZeneca vaccine is also effective, maybe as effective as the other ones as well. And that's why, for example, the big controversy here is now why, despite the fact that Germany has enough doses, for example, from the AstraZeneca vaccine, only a very small margin of those vaccines have been actually used in the different regions.
That's something that German authorities want to increase because they've said that only if the AstraZeneca vaccine is included with the other two as part of Germany's vaccination programme. Only if people actually use that vaccine and want to get vaccinated, then they will be able to to get through these problems now and make sure that they achieve the goal that the German government has established, namely, that every adult in Germany will get a vaccine offer until the end of the summer. That is the 21st of September, which, by the way, is only five days before the German federal elections.
That will mark an end to Angela Merkel's 16 years in power.
And very briefly, finally, Thomas, the question of teachers in the vaccination chain, are they vaccinating teachers as a priority?
This has actually just changed in the last few minutes. They change the order of vaccination to to make sure that teachers can get the vaccination earlier, because that was one of the conditions that was put also for the reopening of schools here in this country. Teachers were in were lower in the ranking in the order. And now they have been put up so that they can start getting the vaccine earlier, so that they can make sure that schools, if possible, remain open.
And this is a strategy that will go hand in hand with more testing and especially some of these fast tests as they're being described here. So, yes, teachers can now be vaccinated here in this country quicker.
So you'll have these lateral flow antigen testing in the schools as well as all the other measures and early vaccination of teachers. Thomas, thank you very much for joining us. That's Thomas Sparrow of Deutsche Avella. The political and security correspondent Hugh Schofield of the BBC in Paris has been listening to that conversation.
Does it sound familiar to you, Hugh, what's going on in Germany? Is it similar in France?
Well, the other one is somewhere, which is that we've got we know we're open, schools are open, shops are open, we're under a curfew still, and everyone has to be back at their homes, as we've discussed before, this programme by six o'clock in the evening. And that remains the big constraint and the big controlling measure here in France. But you know, what we don't have is confinement. What we don't have is locked. And it's been quite apparent that it's a priority of President Macron's, that that schools in particular remain open.
Now, if there are cases in schools, then things change and classes can shut down fairly quickly. I have a little boy who's in nursery school and he was just full half term, which right now he was sent sent home because there's a case in his class so that, you know, that, you know, things are treated fairly quickly. But life has been surprisingly normal in a sense, over the last few weeks as we've watched other countries in Europe, neighbours of France, imposing much more strict measures.
Now, we'll talk about this in a few moments because it's, I suppose, a salutary lesson about people being allowed to move about and to to arrive and what our holiday destinations. But before that, the question of schools and extra precautions they might be taking. I read something about they're using a thing called Easy Kov, which is a saliva swab to test students in school.
Yeah, I've just been reading that mean it's starting this week as being introduced on a regional basis. I'm not fully across these circumstances, but it certainly seems to be the sort of swab test. I understand it is quite new. And, you know, the idea is to keep a handle on, you know, what's happening in schools and to allow this opening to continue through just getting underway. So there's no results of this or any kind of indication of whether it's going to make a big difference.
But I mean, that's certainly one of the measures to put in place to sort of to make sure that we don't go backwards, that France keeps schools open back, to be very, very sensitive to the issue of young people, particularly, I mean, not to miss school students, but university students who he recognises are, you know, presenting all sorts of social, mental, psychological problems at the moment. And I mean, it really does not want to move backwards now from where we're at now.
We had to Edwina Currie on this programme. You'll remember Edwina, I'm sure, and yesterday she was having a go at President Macron saying he didn't like AstraZeneca because it was a British invention invention in Oxford and all that sort of stuff.
What is the attitude to AstraZeneca? Because we heard there from Thomas Howes, some people in Germany are wary of it, even though it's got the EMA go ahead for use for all age groups.
Well, I mean, this story has been rumbling on for sort of three or four weeks now. And, you know, I think back in January, it was a very hot one. And there was a lot of questions about the attitude of the Europeans and the French in particular towards AstraZeneca. And, you know, there were the comments of Macron and his Europe minister back then about whether it's that reliable. And Macron did appear to be, you know, pouring some doubt onto its efficacy amongst the older age group.
It had no doubt that filtered down into the part of the population. You have seen some resistance to it. I think that's gradually changing, though. As time goes by, there are no reactions. There are you know, more and more studies come out, which suggests that it is perfectly effective amongst older age groups. That was the issue. And there's been no reports of worrying side effects, or at least more so than you would expect statistically, and no worse than the other ones.
So I think this is going to disappear as an issue. And, you know, the thirst for the need for vaccines is is as strong here as in Germany and the and the role it has really it has been a slow year in Germany is not slow. I mean, now we're talking, you know, only about sort of five percent of the population of the population who have had their first dose.
That's in about two and a half million people. And you know that Britain I think we're up to 15, 16 million people now. So it it has. And now I see this week they are with government support. They're accelerating the rollout of AstraZeneca with pharmacies now able to administer the injections to people, not just doctors, which means that, you know what?
But it's tempting to think that the the opposition and the doubts cast at the beginning were all slightly political. And now it's it's been sort of put behind us all. And the country recognises that this is part of the solution. And there's no point being to sort of either nationalistic or. Actionist about it, this point is now the national average in France, the seven day rolling average of 190 per 100000 is slightly less than we are here. But increase the rate of infection, 700 per 100000, which is almost four times the national average.
What happened in this?
Well, it Dunkirk as well. I mean, the Dunkirk in the north took about 900, 100000. And this is you know, we've discussed this is going to have these has these specific measures in place now and this new French policy of kind of regionalising its response.
What happened in these maybe that no one seems entirely sure is that over the winter break, in the spring or the winter holidays, they would have been the ones the skiing holidays, people flew in from other countries, Britain, Ireland, to to enjoy the sun and take a bit of a break.
And it was that movement of people potentially, conceivably who that brought this rush in Neith and the surrounding area, plus the fact that there has been good weather.
People have been congregating outside more on beaches and so on. That might be part of it. I mean, what is interesting is that there are these regional hotspots in France now. Near the Italian border is one Dunkirk on the Belgian border with another Mousel on the Luxembourg, Belgium German frontier is another. And a lot of people are wondering, is there a connexion with borders, movement of people in a lot of places on French borders, there is movement from workers going across to other countries and shoppers, people buying cheap cigarettes, for example, very common around the Luxembourg border.
So there is a lot of movement of people, a lot of what the French will Bosarge. I mean, that means sort of mingling, you know, and the questions are being asked whether that's a factor in why these regions, though, it's not sort of clear cut, because, of course, there are other regional areas where that doesn't seem to be the case. It's far from being, you know, a clear answer. Hugh Schofield, BBC Paris correspondent, thank you very much.
We're going to Graeme Kelly, Spain, correspondent for The Independent. Graham, good morning.
Now, we'll start with schools, as we have with our other correspondents. What is happening in Spain? Are the schools open or not? The schools are open.
They have been for quite a while now. Obviously, there have been cases in which classes have had to be sent home when children have had come have tested positive for covid. But generally the government has said the number of cases like that have been quite low and it's not the case. They say that schools have been a centre of infection spreading. Are they taking additional precautions in schools?
Yes, they are. They have been testing at schools on site and they have, as I say, isolated classes immediately. In some cases. I've heard that whole years have been sent home or at least given the option to work at home and do their lessons at home or if they want to come to school and have face to face teaching. So it's very strict. They're being very careful.
Obviously, they want to avoid any any any possibility of schools becoming centres of infection.
Now, the vaccine rollout, how rapidly has it progressed in Spain?
Well, and slowly in comparison with some other countries.
However, so far there are one point two million people, two point six percent of the population have had both doses of the of the vaccine. And this is more than the, say, the UK in terms of people having both doses. However, what the main development on this is, the Spanish prime minister, Peter Sanchez, announced today in parliament that they will get four times the amount of vaccines in the next quarter as they had in the first quarter.
So he anticipates that this programme will speed up quite considerably. Spain's target is to have 70 per cent of the population vaccinated by the end of the summer.
And they defined the end of the summer as, what, the end of September or and of, well, officially the end of the summer, as you know, is the end of September.
I think they have said that they have mentioned July, but they're not they're trying not to be pinned down to to two months because obviously it depends on this, how this goes and it depends on how the actual infection rate goes as well.
So the vaccine rollout is slow, but they are adhering. To the regulations, are they they're not extending the gap between the first dose and the second dose in Spain?
No, they're not they're not doing that at all. They're keeping to strict regulations and they want to play by the book. OK, so we shall watch. We hope that in all countries that as the supplies ramp up, that the vaccination programmes will get underway more rapidly and we'll all be vaccinated long before the end of the summer. But, Graham, thank you very much for joining us. Graham Kealey, Spain correspondent for The Independent.