COVID-19: The fourth wave of coronavirus in Europe surges with threat of death and division | World news
In Cologne’s old town, the Christmas market is almost ready. The stalls are winched and the ice rink takes shape. And yet holding onto it all feels nervous because no one is quite sure what will happen next.
Will tourists come? Will the market still be open until Christmas or the upsurge in COVID to spoil everything. Again.
Germany, like much of Europe, has a serious problem with a rapid and debilitating rise in infections. The dreaded fourth wave is now a depressing reality, coming from the east.
Saxony has already been hit hard; Cologne, on the other side of the country, is now waiting.
In the impressive university hospital of the city, Fabian Dussem warmly welcomes us and opens the door to intensive care.
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, it was full of patients and panic. Now it is empty. But it won’t stay that way.
“I am extremely worried,” he said. “We’ve had three waves before where we had a lot of COVID patients to treat and a lot of them died and now we’re heading straight for the fourth wave.
“Incidents are on the rise and we are extremely worried about what will happen next.
“I’m pissed off, I’m angry, and I’m very tired of this situation because we’re still exhausted from the waves gone by. We don’t want to see this anymore.”
Germany received applause from around the world for its reaction to the first wave when the country claimed fewer deaths than its neighbors.
This time, however, he appears to be in much more pain than France where the infection rate remains much lower.
That, of course, could change with the arrival of this fourth wave in Western Europe. The question that remains unanswered is exactly why.
Germany has vaccinated around two-thirds of its population, which is roughly the same as the UK. People can move around the huge nation with ease, while in retrospect, there’s little doubt that Germany has been too quick to scale down its COVID infrastructure, like its excellent but expensive tracking and tracing system.
And then there is the vaccination program. Germany, like other countries, has seen a marked drop in the number of people coming for the vaccine.
Basically, it’s because most of the people who wanted to get vaccinated and qualify have already come forward. And, among those who were initially reluctant, many were not won over.
Dr Daniel Poerschke seems pained when I ask him how the city can now cope with this fourth wave. He is a doctor at one of the city’s main vaccination centers and is eagerly awaiting a reaction.
“In Cologne, during the peak summer period, we had around 7,500 vaccinations a day, but the vaccination center closed at the end of September and we now only have the capacity of around 500 vaccinations here.
“But the demand is obviously increasing again, because the numbers are increasing and therefore there is also a demand to reopen vaccination centers. It is necessary.
“During the summer, when the numbers were low, a lot of people thought the pandemic was over. Now, with the numbers getting so high, everyone is aware that the pandemic is not over yet.
“Also, now we know that you are not fully protected with two vaccinations and that a third vaccination is necessary. We should have done it earlier. We knew that. Virologists have it. told politicians, in August already.
“The recommendation was already in August to have the third vaccination done, but unfortunately we are only now starting to increase the number of booster vaccinations and I hope it is not too late.”
There is a gap here between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, and it is widening and becoming more and more evident.
Austria has already introduced rules that hamper the movement of unvaccinated people more than those who have had two or three injections. COVID passports are common across Europe, where the requirement to prove your status in restaurants or arenas is now familiar.
And as cases start to rise and deaths follow, the pressure will increase on governments to put in place more restrictive measures, which may well exacerbate that sense of division.
Already, some political parties, such as the Freedom Party in Austria, exploit this feeling of disaffection among unvaccinated people.
So, COVID will not only be about health or politics, but the makeup of society and our definition of freedom.
Amid infections, deaths and efforts to keep hospitals from becoming clogged again, the virus could complicate Europe more than ever.