A care worker carrying vaccine doses for jabs in Paris on 22 January. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

  Coronavirus pandemic 2021

  66 Debates

After 20 days of advance notice, workers in Italy have until Friday to prove that they have either been vaccinated, recovered from coronavirus or that they have tested negative. Observers expect fierce resistance to the new regulations: staff at various ports in the country are threatening blockades if the measure is not withdrawn, and lorry drivers have also threatened walkouts. The national press calls on society to stand firm.

The fourth wave of the coronavirus is causing the number of deaths and severe cases to rise once more in many parts of Europe - in particular among the unvaccinated. The press discusses how restriction-weary citizens and their politicians should react.

Romania recorded more than 11,000 new SARS-CoV-2 infections on Tuesday, its highest number since the start of the pandemic. Bulgaria and Romania have the lowest vaccination rates in the EU, with just over one-fourth of the population fully immunised. The country's media says the government's unconvincing and sluggish pandemic management is to blame.

In the coming winter season there will be hardly any restrictions for vaccinated and recovered tourists in Austria - apart from having to wear FFP2 masks in cable cars. With memories of the Ischgl resort fiasco in 2020 still fresh, the country's newspapers examine the rules that have now been adopted.

Denmark took the plunge and lifted all infection control restrictions on Friday. Since 96 percent of people over 60 have been vaccinated, the virus no longer poses a threat to society, Health Minister Heunicke declared. Commentators in other countries now wonder when the time will come to follow suit.

What experts predicted since the start of the pandemic is now accepted among the general population: SARS-Cov-2 is here to stay. In view of stagnating vaccination rates and highly contagious variants like Delta, commentators are now wondering how much longer it will be before the virus is no longer a major threat.

In many European countries the new school year began on September 1. Hopes were high that after 18 months of closed schools, homeschooling, compulsory Covid tests and face masks there would be a return to normality. But the Delta variant is driving up infection rates, especially among children, most of whom are unvaccinated. Today's commentaries reflect disgruntlement and perplexity - and concerns over even bigger problems.

Major demonstrations against mandatory vaccination in the health sector and the health passport took place again in several French cities over the weekend. According to the Ministry of the Interior, around 240,000 people took to the street. The Constitutional Council had previously approved the new Covid measures. But these demonstrations are about more than the conflict between measures to fight the pandemic and personal freedoms, commentators observe.

France's National Assembly has approved the introduction of the health passport. However, the vaccination and testing obligations are less restrictive than the government had previously planned. Macron described those who do not want to be vaccinated as irresponsible and selfish. Many accuse the president of exploiting the pandemic to expand his power.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic Europe has been discussing the long-term impact the crisis could have on work and life, and whether working from home, for example, should be the rule - at least for those who can do their work from home. This could be between 20 and 40 percent of the workforce, depending on the country. After more than a year, commentators give a clear yes to telework.

In France, 160,000 people demonstrated against new coronavirus restrictions on the weekend, and there were also large demonstrations in Italy and Greece. Athens and Paris have imposed compulsory vaccination in the health sector, while in Italy cinemas and restaurants and in France shopping centres and public transport are to be open only to those who have been vaccinated or tested. But the protests are not so much about concrete measures, says Europe's press.

In the UK, almost all coronavirus restrictions will be lifted today, Monday, which the media have therefore dubbed "Freedom Day". Prime Minister Boris Johnson is counting on the citizens' sense of responsibility - against the advice of many experts, who point to the recent surge in infections, especially among young people. Is the government acting irresponsibly or is this a far-sighted approach?

Three weeks ago, the Netherlands lifted almost all its Covid-related restrictions. Clubs and discos were allowed to reopen for the first time in over a year. Last Saturday, however, the country's health authority reported 10,000 new infections and Prime Minister Mark Rutte was forced to backpedal. He and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge apologised on Monday for the "yo-yo policy".

Summer holidays at last! And an opportunity for commentators to look back over a year of teaching in the pandemic - and to consider what lessons can been learned for next year.

As of 19 July, virtually all remaining Covid restrictions are to be lifted in the UK. Although infection numbers have surged, with the seven-day incidence reaching 259, the number of hospital admissions and deaths has remained relatively low. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "We need to learn to live with the virus." Is the British government doing the right thing?

With 670 deaths per day, the number of people dying from Covid in Russia has now reached unprecedented levels, in part because of the Delta variant. Yet apart from certain restrictions on border traffic the country has not imposed any stringent containment measures for a year. Vaccination is also making slow progress, with only twelve percent of the population fully vaccinated. What are the reasons and what lies ahead for the country?

The new EU-wide Digital Covid Certificate which aims to facilitate travel for those who are vaccinated comes into force today, 1 July. But several states are still having problems issuing or checking the vaccination certificate. Commentators see further hurdles on the path back to unrestricted freedom of travel but hail the certificate as an integrating achievement.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is causing a spike in infection rates in several countries. In Europe, Britain, Russia and Portugal are the hardest hit so far. But even in countries with a low incidence, the proportion of those infected with the variant is steadily rising, and vaccinated people are reportedly becoming infected with it as well. Commentators discuss what measures should be taken and ask whether politicians and the population are taking the threat seriously enough.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to fall in most European countries, more and more restrictions are being lifted. But the political will to go beyond the old normality is lacking, some commentators complain. A missed opportunity and risky to boot, they say.

Unlike in most European countries, there were hardly any coronavirus restrictions in Russia for months. However less than 10 percent of the population has been vaccinated so far, and now the number of cases is rapidly rising. This has prompted a debate about compulsory vaccination (in Moscow regulations have already been introduced obliging companies to ensure that 60 percent of their employees are vaccinated) - and above all about the reasons for the debacle.

Covid infection numbers are currently falling steadily in almost all European countries. After the relaxing of restrictions in shops and restaurants and partial relaxations in cultural venues, has the time come to gradually lift the requirement to wear a mask? Commentators are at odds.

In an open letter to her Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has called for a solution to the dispute over commuters. Finland currently only permits quarantine-free entry to arrivals from Malta and Iceland. Since the start of the year when the rules were tightened, thousands of Estonians have had to choose between their jobs on one side of the border and their families on the other.

Since mid-May, Portugal has been the only major European destination that Britons were allowed to visit, and even hosted the Champions League final. But now the UK has put the country on its amber list and imposed quarantine for all returnees starting Tuesday - due to concerns about the doubling of the incidence rate to 66 and the new variant Delta+K417N. Lisbon has accused London of health fundamentalism.

Many European countries are now discussing how to address the problems caused by homeschooling. In the UK, Education Recovery Commissioner Kevan Collins resigned in protest when only 1.4 billion pounds was approved instead of the 15 billion he had demanded. This is also the subject of heated discussion in the British press. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands an even larger financial package is coming under fire.

At the Champions League final in Porto, visiting fans of the British clubs Manchester City and Chelsea FC enjoyed freedoms that are still denied to the Portuguese under Covid restrictions. The policy was at the very least poorly communicated to the public, if not completely misguided, national media criticise.

A "catastrophic failure" of leadership at the start of the pandemic: this is the accusation Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's key advisor at the time, has levelled at the British government. He says Boris Johnson did not take the virus seriously, that there was no plan, and that swifter action could have saved tens of thousands of lives. For commentators, the House of Commons hearing provides bitter insights.

A Wall Street Journal report has given fresh impetus to the theory that Sars-Cov-2 originated from a Chinese lab. According to the report based on unpublished US intelligence, employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology showing symptoms similar to Covid sought hospital care in November 2019. US President Biden is demanding clarification and has expanded the US intelligence agency investigation, saying he wants a report within 90 days.

France has lifted further restrictions in accordance with its phased reopening plan for the easing of anti-Covid lockdown measures, which began on May 3. The outdoor areas of restaurants and cafes, as well as shops and cultural institutions were allowed to reopen on Wednesday. The country's 7-day incidence rate is currently at 149 (as of 20 May). Commentators are encouraged.

Despite still relatively high infection rates (the 7-day incidence rate on 14 May was 156), the strict lockdown in Greece has for the most part been lifted after around six months. The country also officially reopened its doors to tourists on Saturday. Greek media take stock of the general mood in the country.

As the vaccination programmes progress and increase immunity, hopes of an end to the restrictions and a return to normality are also growing. But the pandemic has opened up wounds that will continue to hurt even after infection rates have been brought under control in our part of the world, Europe's press notes.

In Greece, the governing party Nea Dimokratia has decided to grant immunity from prosecution to all those dealing with and making decisions aimed at tackling the pandemic. Under the new provisions scientists, politicians and civil servants who work in committees set up to deal with coronavirus-related issues cannot be prosecuted for statements or decisions made in the course of these activities. The move has been met with fierce criticism.

The European Parliament on Thursday approved the introduction of EU Covid-19 certificates, which are intended to facilitate travel this summer. The member states, which are expected to align the certificates with their own national vaccination certificates and systems, are discussing the details of the scheme in the European Council. Commentators avidly discuss whether the document could result in discrimination against those who haven't been vaccinated.

Portugal celebrated Freedom Day on 25 April, in commemoration of the Carnation Revolution of 1974 when an almost bloodless coup supported by a clear majority of the population put an end to the dictatorship introduced by António de Salazar. Unlike in 2020, this year several thousand people gathered on Lisbon's Avenida da Liberdade despite the pandemic. Commentators take very different views of this.

India is now the epicentre of the pandemic. Beds, medicine and above all oxygen are lacking in its hospitals and people are dying at the clinics, at home and on the street. More than 40 countries have pledged aid. In the midst of this chaos, elections were held in several states. Observers make serious accusations against the government and warn that everyone must pitch in to help.

Tourism in Greece is to be ramped up again from May 15, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced in a televised speech on Wednesday evening. Covid-related restrictions will be relaxed in the coming weeks, with restaurants and cafés reopening from May 3. Commentators are emphatically unenthusiastic.

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began for Muslims across the globe on Tuesday. Adults and believers who are in good health are required not to eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. Due to the pandemic, people will not be allowed to gather to break their fast together this year either. This will leave more time for contemplation and reflection, commentators explain.

Three Covid-19 patients who were being treated in a container installed outside a hospital in Bucharest have died, presumably due to a malfunction of the oxygen supply systems to which they were connected. The containers were purchased in April last year to take some of the strain off overcrowded hospitals. Commentators say the incident is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sharp drops in the number of infections thanks to a successful vaccination campaign have made it possible: after three months in lockdown, shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and outdoor dining facilities reopened in England on Monday. While people there are taking full advantage of the new freedoms, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are taking a more cautious approach. What will England's easing of restrictions bring?

The pandemic is also having an indirect negative impact on people's health: from mental health issues caused by social restrictions to a registered excess mortality that has nothing to do with Covid-19 infections. Policymakers need to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon and find ways to deal with it, commentators urge.

The vaccination campaign against Covid-19 is gaining momentum in some EU countries, but vaccination rates are still low compared to those in the US and the UK. The Next Generation EU recovery plan for the pandemic-weakened economy was quickly adopted last year, but not a single euro has been distributed yet. Are doubts about the EU's effectiveness in the crisis justified? Commentators are divided.

Under massive pressure from President Miloš Zeman, the former Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný was replaced by Petr Arenberger on Wednesday after only five months in office. Blatný had blocked the clinical testing and introduction of Sputnik V in the Czech Republic, which Zeman vehemently supports. Commentators are emphatically unimpressed by Zeman's - and Russia's - show of force.

France has gone into lockdown for a third time despite assurances that it wouldn't, and Germany is also discussing tightening the measures again to contain the virus. Portugal, on the other hand, is hoping for a little more freedom after a tough two months. Europe's commentators describe how the pandemic continues to test people's patience and nerves.

The zigzagging across Europe on coronavirus restrictions continues. Some countries - like France - are tightening their measures in view of rising infection rates while others are wavering or even relaxing them - like Greece. Most of Europe's press concurs that there is only one way out now.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been instructed by Germany's Constitutional Court not to sign off on a law ratifying the EU's coronavirus recovery fund because of a constitutional complaint against Germany's participation in the programme. The complaint was filed by a group led by former Alternative for Germany leader Bernd Lucke, who argues that it is illegal for the EU to take on joint debt to finance the package. This is about more than just a formality, European journalists conclude.

The Covid crisis has increased poverty, unemployment and social inequality across Europe and in the rest of the world. Young people, the culture and hospitality sectors and tourism are the worst affected, as well as groups that were already structurally disadvantaged before the pandemic. Commentators paint a bleak picture and call for urgent and effective action.

Although most European governments are extremely reluctant to impose further lockdowns and restrictions on their citizens, in view of growing infection rates they see no other option. This makes it all the more important that the measures they take are viewed as reasonable and logical. Which is posing a major problem, commentators note.

In France, the coronavirus 7-day incidence rate lies at 252.5 cases per 100,000 people. Nevertheless, politicians are currently not planning new hard lockdowns, shops remain open, and schools are mostly back to running as normal. Instead the focus is being placed on strict mask requirements, curfews and tests, until most of the population has been vaccinated. Commentators voice their approval.

In mid-March 2020 most of the shops, daycare centres and schools closed in many European countries, and the first states closed their borders. Various restrictions on civil liberties followed, some of which have only been partially lifted to date. A year on, observers draw sobering conclusions and fear that some changes may remain after the pandemic is over.

Valued at roughly 1.6 trillion euros, the "American Rescue Plan" for combatting the Covid crisis passed by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday and signed into law by US President Joe Biden on Thursday is one of the biggest economic stimulus programmes of all time. The debt-financed package primarily aims to help the poor, families, communities and schools. The majority of Europe's media are impressed and hope the plan will have a positive impact on this side of the Atlantic, too.

Scientific studies show that the year-long pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health. Many people are suffering as a result of far-reaching restrictions, the burden of individual responsibility and infection rates that are rising despite all the efforts. Many people with a history of depression have been particularly hard hit. How should society react?

In the context of the Corona crisis, the birth rate has plummeted in many European countries as well as in the USA and China, among others. In Spain, for example, there were 22.6 percent fewer births in January compared to the previous year, and in France 13 percent. Commentators ponder what could help and refer to the opposite trend in poorer countries with concern.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is predicting 5.6 percent global growth for this year. The main drivers are China with 7.8 and the US with 6.5 percent, but the Eurozone is also on trend with an expected plus of 3.9 percent. However, this is still not enough to allay the concerns of the commentators.

In Denmark, migrants account for 8.9 percent of the total population but 23 percent of coronavirus cases. Municipal employees are now going door to door in neighbourhoods that are considered high risk, distributing information and offering tests. The press welcomes the initiative and demands more commitment from the migrants, too.

Of the 2.5 million coronavirus deaths worldwide, 2.2 million were in countries with a comparatively high obesity rate, according to a study put out by the World Obesity Federation this week. Previous studies also establish a link between severe Covid cases and obesity. Should efforts to combat obesity be ramped up? And if so, how? Opinions are divided.

Italy decided on Tuesday to partially tighten its anti-pandemic restrictions. Among other things, all schools in the hard-hit red zones will be closed again. On the same day a Unicef report appeared which documents a huge educational crisis: 168 million children worldwide are currently excluded from classes. Is keeping school closed the right approach?

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has presented his budget for 2021 and explained the plan for economic recovery and reducing the debt incurred due to the pandemic. In the short term, aid measures amounting to 65 billion pounds (just over 75 billion euros) will continue. From April 2023, taxes on companies' profits will increase from 19 to 25 percent. Commentators take notice, especially since for many the planned measures mark a U-turn.

After weeks and in some cases months of far-reaching restrictions on public life in many European countries, calls for the anti-pandemic measures to be eased are growing louder. At the same time, new virus variants are reducing the effectiveness of the measures. Europe's press reflects the dilemma governments across the continent face.

Germany partially closed its borders with Austria and the Czech Republic on the weekend due to concerns about the spread of new coronavirus variants. Only people working in Germany or visiting close relatives are allowed to cross the border, and they must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test and self-quarantine once they are in the country. While some commentators criticise the tone of the debate, others stress the need for regional measures.

Companies on the brink of bankruptcy, citizens on the verge of exhaustion: the strict pandemic regulations that have been in place for months are taking a serious toll and prompting urgent calls for an easing of the measures, especially in areas where infection rates are falling. But politicians are hesitant - and often make decisions behind closed doors. However, this isn't the only reason why journalists are critical of the decision-makers' response to the crisis.

Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný has rejected Germany's offer to relieve the country's overstretched Czech clinics in the border region by transporting corona patients to Bavaria and Saxony. That could lead people to believe the Czech Republic can't take care of its own citizens, he said. Commentators in Prague find this stance utterly incomprehensible.

In many countries of Europe shops and schools have been closed for weeks in a bid to reduce the number of coronavirus infections. But people are growing very weary of all the measures. At the same time, new virus variants and the slow rate of vaccination have dampened hopes of a speedy improvement of the situation. Europe's press asks what can be done to improve the mood.

During an official trip to the island of Icaria, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his staff were filmed having lunch with 30 people. This is not the first time he has violated the coronavirus rules introduced by his own government. A telling scandal or nothing to get in a huff about?

Slowly but surely, the number of people who have been vaccinated against coronavirus is rising. Should these people be issued vaccination certificates to enable them to return sooner to a more normal way of life, as for example Denmark is planning to do? Perhaps even before other sections of the population have had the chance to be vaccinated? Press voices across Europe say solidarity should take precedence over individual freedom here.

Concerns about the spread of mutated virus variants from the UK and South Africa are facing policy-makers with challenging decisions. The EU wants to avoid general border closures like those imposed during the first wave of the pandemic, but many countries are now introducing stringent border controls, flight bans and new quarantine rules at their own initiative. Commentators examine the options.

Many people hear the latest figures on coronavirus deaths even before breakfast, as breaking news on their smartphones or the radio. As a society, this means we are thinking about death again, more than we have for a long time - even those of us who have not yet lost any relatives or friends to the virus. What effect does this have? And is it not legitimate to want to suppress thoughts of mortality?

In many European countries schools and universities have remained partially or completely closed after the Christmas holidays. Decisons on when and to what extent classroom teaching will restart are generally being taken contingent on current infection rates. For many commentators the measures regarding children and young people border on ignorance.