Eastern Europe is recording lower coronavirus infections and lifting lockdowns earlier than their richer, more developed Western European counterparts. Here's why.
Countries in eastern Europe are yet to see coronavirus outbreaks as severe as those in western Europe. Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the UK are the worst-affected countries after the US. But the likes of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia are relatively unscathed. In part, this is due to swift lockdowns that were in some cases enforced before any deaths were reported. It may also be due to a lack of testing. Fewer tests means fewer identified cases. Most of the countries are also yet to reach the peak of their outbreaks, which could explain why casualties and cases are comparatively low. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Countries in eastern Europe have avoided large coronavirus outbreaks like those seen in the west and south of the continent. Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the UK are the worst affected countries in the world after the US. Poland and Romania are the worst affected of the eastern European states, but are still far behind their western counterparts. Even further behind them are Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and Slovakia. Here's why the bloc appears to have dodged a major outbreak, with many now confident enough to roll back their lockdown measures. Early, strict lockdown The World Health Organization started encouraging countries to enforce lockdowns in mid-February, citing the success of the tactic in Wuhan, China, which locked down in late January after the virus started to spread there. Eastern European countries were, overall, faster to act than the UK, Italy, or Spain. Poland reported its first case on March 4 and by the time it reported its first death, on March 12, large events had been suspended. By March 25, schools, non-essential shops, and border crossings were closed, and non-essential travel was banned. In contrast, the UK reported its first case on January 29 and first death on March 5. The government didn't act until March 17, where it banned large gatherings. On March 25, the UK banned non-essential travel and closed schools, non-essential shops, and borders. Last week, the UK government said the lockdown could last for many months to come. The Czech Republic has also drawn praise for taking swift action. The first case was reported there on March 12. By the time the first death was reported, on March 22, the country had already been living under a full lockdown for six days, since March 16.
Adam Vojtěch, the Czech health minister, said on April 6 that the country could start lifting controls because the lockdown had been successful. Slovakia enforced one of Europe's harshest lockdowns, forbidding international travel, banning all public events, and forcing new arrivals to undergo 14-day quarantine. Only 13 people have died in Slovakia as of Tuesday, giving it the lowest death rate per-capita in Europe, Reuters reported. It also made facemasks mandatory before any other European country. Slovakia also harnessed telecoms data to monitor the spread of people. Other nations, like the UK and Japan, have faced vocal opposition to such techniques over privacy concerns. However, bucking the trend, Belarus has not enforced any form of lockdown, despite on Monday reporting its fifty-first death. In March, President Alexander Lukashenko appeared to deny the accepted science of the virus, telling his people that drinking vodka and visiting the sauna would keep them safe. The worst is yet to come Though it is clear that the region moved faster to stunt the spread of the virus than the west, health authorities in many of these countries warn they have not yet reached the peak of their outbreaks. Despite the approach taken by Belarus, the outbreak is expected to peak there in early May, health minister Vladimir Karanik said on Monday. Hungary, for example, has reported just over 2,000 cases, and the government is targeting May 3 for an end to lockdown. But on Sunday, the country's chief medical officer, Cecília Müller, warned that a boom in new cases was expected. Italy and Spain now appear to have passed the peaks of their outbreaks, with the help of lockdowns, while the UK is currently in the midst of it. Romania is also anticipating more cases to emerge, predicting the outbreak could peak between April 22 and April 26, according to Raed Arafat, the head of the country's Emergency Services Department.
Health minister Nelu Tătaru said on Monday: "We are still in a moment when we are on the climb." Similarly, Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal said on Monday that the epidemic was projected to peak there in early May. Slovakia's health ministry predicts the peak will fall at the end of June, despite the early and stringent lockdown. Fewer tests, fewer confirmed cases "We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom said on March 16. But many countries are not doing so, either as a result of policy, logistical issues, or a lack of equipment. Hungary completed 70% fewer tests than its less populous neighbor Austria, according to the Guardian. Romania, with a population of 19.5 million, has only carried out 12,000 tests. The country's health minister resigned on Friday, shortly after pledging to test all two million residents of the capital Bucharest.
Poland, which has a population of 38 million, has carried out 224,355 tests. Georgia, which has a population of 3.7 million, carried out 7,611 tests. Conversely, one reason why the number of infections in Germany is so high is because of mass testing. The government was testing more than 200,000 a week in early March and has identified 147,065 cases. Similarly, one reason why Spain has located 200,000 infections is down to the use of one million tests. Health authorities are agreed that lockdowns and social distancing have saved lives, and the efforts countries like Poland should be commended. "Sustained, drastic actions taken by European governments have already saved lives by driving down the number of new infections each day," Dr Seth Flaxman, expert in statistical machine learning at Imperial College London, said.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the Navy's largest hospital ship can help with the coronavirus
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Summary List Placement China, where the novel coronavirus was first discovered, is now by most measures...Summary List Placement China, where the novel coronavirus was first discovered, is now by most measures in the clear, with much of life returning to normal. It is a startling reversal from January and February, where China appeared to be in chaos as the rest of the world looked on. China's recovery was particularly evident over Golden Week, one of China's largest holidays, which ran from October 1 to October 7. Some 637 million people — or 46% of the entire country's population — traveled around China that week, spending between them $69 billion on holidays, shopping trips, weddings, and visits to relatives, state media said. Meanwhile, the US and a number of European nations are struggling to quash their outbreaks and reignite their economies following widespread job losses and recessions. The US Thanksgiving holiday weekend is a little more than a month away. On Wednesday, the top US infectious-disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said Americans must "sacrifice" it if they hope to prevent another surge of cases. Countries are also now facing the added pressure of winter, which with its cold weather and people's weakened immune systems could fuel new surges of COVID-19 cases. The US is far from emulating the success of Golden Week. On Tuesday, China reported 20 new cases, according to its National Health Commission. The same day, the US reported 54,512 new cases, according to a tracker from The New York Times. China was the first to experience the outbreak, so it follows that it should be first to pass out of it. But the speed with which it has done so lays bare the poor handling of the pandemic by many Western nations. The US, with a population of 328 million, has recorded nearly 8 million coronavirus cases and more than 217,000 deaths as of Friday, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, China, with a population of 1.3 billion, has recorded of 90,900 coronavirus cases and 4,739 deaths as of Friday, per Johns Hopkins. China's success has been attributed to a number of factors. Testing, with tempo The first thing that enabled China to succeed was a commitment to testing, and testing smartly. Getting a test was fast, and it was free. Those who tested positive were immediately sent to newly-created isolation centers or nearby hospitals, reducing the risk of infecting people they live or work with. Wuhan was quickly isolated, with residents spending 76 days in lockdown. "These are places that got out of control in the beginning, and China made this decision to protect China and the rest of the world," Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general at the WHO, told Vox at the time, adding that China's success came from speed and from taking contract tracing seriously. "The faster you can find the cases, isolate the cases, and track their close contacts, the more successful you're going to be," he said. "They have their system primed for rapid detection and rapid response. They never want to be in another situation like a Wuhan — and they haven't." Coupled with this, as Business Insider previously reported, hospitals were built from scratch within days, non-urgent medical care was delayed, doctor visits were moved online, outdoor fever clinics were opened, hospitals walled off COVID-19 wards, and large-scale contact tracing was rolled out. Fourteen thousand health and temperature checkpoints were also set up at most major transport hubs across the country, according to The Lancet medical journal. In July, as China began to tentatively reopen its borders, the country's aviation authority said that anyone entering from abroad must have tested negative for COVID-19 within five days of boarding. And in the latter days of the outbreak, when barely any new cases were being recorded, China still took no risks. On October 9, the eastern city of Qingdao announced it would test all 9 million residents for the coronavirus in a five-day blitz after identifying 12 new cases linked to a local hospital. On Thursday, the state-run People's Daily newspaper reported that authorities had conducted 10.5 million tests. That is equivalent to testing everyone in the New York City area. It was not the first time China tested a whole city at the first sign of a threat that the coronavirus was on the spread again. In May, Wuhan tested its 11 million residents over a 10-day period. Those that did not submit themselves for testing were told that they would have to pay for all their tests in the future, according to The New York Times. Before that flare-up, COVID-19 test sites in Wuhan were processing an average 46,000 tests a day, The Times reported. On the first day of the mass testing effort in May, it processed 1.47 million tests, The Times said. It indicated just how seriously China was still taking the virus, even after weeks with no new locally transmitted cases. Some experts even said that it was overkill. Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, told The Times that a sample of about 100,000 people would have been enough, and described the mass testing scheme as "kind of scary." To compare the level of testing in Wuhan to that in the US, The Times reported that New York state had tested a total of 1.7 million people between March 4 and June 3. During that period, on April 7, the state logged a record 5,489 coronavirus deaths. The previous day, 4,758 people died. Some US cities have drawn praise for rolling out fairly successful testing drives, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but all have fallen short of the efforts seen in China. Meanwhile, the UK has a chronic testing problem, with the government on several occasions failing to hit daily testing targets, most recently in the face of heightened demand. Spain, too, struggled to ramp up testing in the spring. France ramped up testing this autumn, but there have been multiple reports of widespread delays and overloaded laboratories. Lockdowns and social distancing done strictly Throughout the pandemic cities across China enforced lockdowns strictly, and reintroduced them when needed. Residents complied with public-health measures, with local authorities visiting households to make sure people were at home and even barred them from leaving. China is an authoritarian state which routinely monitors its citizens and suppresses dissent. During its outbreak officials across the country used hi-tech methods to monitor their residents, from catching people with fevers with facial-recognition and thermal cameras, to flying drones to shame people for being outdoors. A study comparing human interactions in the major cities of Wuhan and Shanghai before and after the pandemic, published in Science magazine in June, found that "daily contacts were reduced seven-to-eightfold during the COVID-19 social distancing period, with most interactions restricted to the household." "We find that social distancing alone, as implemented in China during the outbreak, is sufficient to control COVID-19," the authors wrote. Another reason why China enforced public-health measures so well, one expert said, was because it already had experience responding to outbreaks, thanks to the SARS epidemic in 2003. "It has a centralized epidemic response system. Most Chinese adults remember SARS-CoV and the high mortality rate that was associated with it," Xi Chen, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Lancet in October. "The society was very alert as to what can happen in a coronavirus outbreak. Other countries do not have such fresh memories of a pandemic." Meanwhile, the US failed to introduce a coherent federal plan to make social distancing or wearing masks a norm. The White House flip-flopped between endorsing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advice on wearing masks and ignoring it. Last month the White House reportedly blocked the CDC from imposing rules to make masks compulsory on public transport. Dr. Leana Wen, the former health commissioner for Baltimore, told CNN in May: "We know social distancing is most effective when applied early, consistently and aggressively. That's not what has happened across the US." Americans still won't wear masks Masks are widely believed to be one key way to slow the spread of the virus, and China, being the world's largest producer of personal protective equipment, was well placed to quickly increase production and supply frontline workers with protection. Authorities in the US, UK, and Europe, however, reported shortages of PPE, and took months to admit that mask wearing was beneficial to curbing the spread of the coronavirus. In May, the British government was still considering whether to tell the public to cover their faces in public. On the contrary, "compliance was very high" in China, said Chen, the Yale professor. He told The Lancet: "Compare that with the USA, where even in June and July, when the virus was surging, people were still refusing to wear masks. Even in late September, President Trump still treated Joe Biden's mask-wearing as a weakness to be ridiculed." In the US, UK, and Italy, officials also blamed surges in cases on young people who they said were eschewing masks. Multiple reports have highlighted how young people were reveling in the summer weather, attending spring break parties, and holding illegal raves. 'Pandemic fatigue' The scale and intent of China's lockdown were hard to replicate in the US and Europe. When China locked down Wuhan and nearby cities in January, some Western experts suggested the move was unethical. Throughout the pandemic citizens in London, Madrid, Belgrade, Denver, Austin, and more have held anti-lockdown protests. There is also a consensus among medical professionals that lockdowns in the US and Europe ended well before the communities were free from the virus or equipped to suppress flare-ups. When San Francisco locked down in March — becoming one of the first urban areas in the US to do so — residents largely followed the government's orders on mask wearing, social distancing, limiting gatherings. Two months later, the city recorded just 35 coronavirus deaths — compared to 14,700 in New York City in the same time frame, according to Wired. (San Francisco has a tenth of New York City's population, so its comparable death toll would have been 1,470, Wired said.) But as the patience of San Franciscans waned in August, cases began to climb. "What it [the lockdown] bought us was 3 1/2 months of relative calm, relatively few cases, astoundingly few deaths, and an opportunity to build up capacity," Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the University of California, San Francisco, department of medicine, told The Washington Post on August 3. "What it also bought us was a little bit of complacency." In Europe the case was much the same, with experts saying that the continent was suffering from "pandemic fatigue." Cases are on the rise this week, and reaching record levels. The UK reached a new peak of more than 17,000 daily cases on Thursday. On Tuesday, France reported a record 19,000 new cases. Belgium and Poland have also set new records for daily cases, with infections also surging in Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden. Paris, London, and other large areas were put under renewed restrictions this week. While high case numbers can be in part attributed to increased testing — which was missing during the peak of the continent's outbreak this spring — there has also been increased socializing in those places, Business Insider's Aria Bendix reported. Nevertheless, experts have warned that, in places like the UK, lockdowns were lifted too early. In an attempt to make up lost ground, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed lockdowns on a number of northern urban areas in late September and early October, with little effect. It was revealed on October 13 that Johnson's government ignored advice from the government's public-health experts to enforce a two-week lockdown in late September. Those measures would have helped stop the virus resurging. What now? On September 8, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the coronavirus defeated in his country. "We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against COVID-19," he told a ceremony honoring healthcare workers. It also appears that the swift, sometimes hard measures adopted in China saw it become the first major economy to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer. China said its economy grew 3.2% in the second quarter of 2020, with ex-Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill saying that the country is likely to erase all its 2020 economic losses next year. Meanwhile, the US and many European states still have a lot to do to drive down its coronavirus outbreak to China's level. And as winter approaches, experts fear that deaths will rocket if nothing changes. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasted on Friday that if no change in policy comes, the US could expect a total of 389,000 COVID-19 deaths by February 1, 2021 — almost double the current death toll.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the Navy's largest hospital ship can help with the coronavirus
Encouraging signs from EU states who acted early, as South Korea reports no new casesCoronavirus –...Encouraging signs from EU states who acted early, as South Korea reports no new casesCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageDenmark and the Czech Republic have said partially easing their lockdowns has not led to a surge in new coronavirus infections, as the WHO continued to urge extreme caution and Germany relaxed some restrictions but extended others.As EU governments grappled with the complex and conflicting imperatives of easing the lockdowns crippling their economies while avoiding a disastrous second wave of infections, meanwhile, South Korea reported no new cases for the first time. Continue reading...
More and more countries across Europe have started lifting their lockdowns. Here's how they're working out.
A host of European countries have started easing their coronavirus lockdowns and moving toward reopening their...A host of European countries have started easing their coronavirus lockdowns and moving toward reopening their economies. Some countries that have loosened restrictions for more than a week have not yet reported any significant spike in cases. That will aid their plans to reopen further, as well as encourage other nations planning to loosen their rules in the coming days. However, authorities warn that any resurgence of cases could lead to new steps being delayed and restrictions coming back. Some other countries have only just changed their rules, meaning it's likely too early to know if it has boosted the disease spread. But they are yet to report any disasters too. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. A host of countries across Europe have started easing their coronavirus lockdowns, allowing people to move around more and businesses to reopen. While some countries only changed their rules in the last few days — meaning any related surge in cases may not yet take hold or be detected by medical authorities — some have operated under looser rules for longer, and no countries have yet reported a significant surge of cases. If that pattern continues, it will push these governments to take more steps to reopen, and also encourage more countries to start down a similar path. Many of these governments have warned that the process of lifting the lockdowns will be slow, and that any sign that loosening the restrictions is causing the virus to spread further will result in old rules being re-implemented. How successful they are will guide other countries that have not yet announced any easing of the rules — like Ireland, the UK, and the US — as well as guide the host of European countries who have plans to start opening up in the next few days and weeks. Germany has reopened and is being cautiously optimistic Germany, one of the most infected countries in Europe, allowed shops like bike stores and bookshops to open on Monday. The country has seen more than 6,300 deaths, though its death rate is remarkably low compared to countries with a similarly high number of cases. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the country as having made a lot of progress, but said infections have to be closely monitored going forward. "We have achieved so much, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we cannot gamble it all away," she said. The country has plans to reopen further in the next few days, including opening schools and more businesses like hairdressers. Bars, cafes, and restaurants will remain closed, with large gatherings banned until the end of August. However, there is some concern over the country's reproduction number — or R0 — which is the average number of people that one single person can infect with the coronavirus. This number can differ across countries. German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported Monday that Germany's reproduction number had increased from 0.9 to 1.0, which means that on average every person infected is infecting one other person. Merkel previously said that the country's health system could be overwhelmed if the rate reaches 1.1, which suggests the plan to lift restrictions could be reexamined. But given that this increase took place on the same day that some restrictions lifted, it is unclear if the new rules could have caused an increase that quickly. Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's infectious diseases agency, also said the number of new cases reported daily is still falling and said that the increased infection rate was not a huge cause for concern. He described it as "an important figure, but not the only holy grail" of epidemiology. Denmark, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Poland are seeing success Denmark, where 443 people have died, began lifting its restrictions on April 15 by reopening schools for children up to age 11, and keeping them far apart and limiting the number of children per class. Some parents have criticized this decision. The country also reopened places like courts, beauty salons, and hairdressers on Monday. The number of new cases announced every day have been at under 200 a day for almost a week, except for a spike of 235 new cases on April 25. Since April 7, the Czech Republic has allowed people to cycle, jog, and hike in the countryside without face masks as long as they practice social distancing. It has also reopened outdoor sports facilities. The country had also clamped down on the virus early in its outbreak, having declared a state of emergency before even recording its first death. It now plans to reopen large shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, and museums throughout May if cases don't increase. And so far they haven't: New daily cases have remained under the country's peak of over 300 recorded on April 8, and no more than 150 new cases have been recorded in a single day since April 20. Two hundred and twenty-seven people have died from the virus so far in the country. Norway, where 206 people have died, reopened preschools on April 20 and schools for slightly older children on Monday. It also lifted restrictions on people staying in second homes and reopened businesses like hairdressers. The country hasn't recorded any spike in cases so far, with new daily cases have remaining below 108 since April 16. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Tuesday: "Norway has managed to gain control of the virus. The job now is to keep that control." And Poland, where 606 people have died, started reopening parks and forests on April 20, and has relaxed rules about the number of people allowed in shops. It hasn't seen any increase in the rate of new cases since, with cases staying well below the peak of the 545 new cases recorded on April 19. But Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said rules could be tightened again if that changes, even as the country plans to soon take more steps like opening hotels and preschools. Switzerland, Albania, and Greece have only just started reopening, but so far so good Many European countries have started relaxed restrictions within the past few days. While it may still be too early to know if these measures have increased the virus' spread, no ill effects have been recorded so far. Switzerland, where 1,699 people have died, opened businesses like dentist practices, hardware stores, doctors' surgeries, and garden centers on Monday. For two weeks, its daily case count has remained among the lowest it has been since the outbreak began. Albania allowed some stores to reopen for limited hours from Monday, with people also allowed to drive and use taxis more within the country. Its new daily cases peaked at 34 on April 25, and less than 14 a day have been recorded since. A total of 750 people have been died from the virus there. Greece, where 138 people have died, opened courts and registry offices on Monday, with plans to open some shops and schools in early May. New daily cases have remained among the country's lowest since April 14. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned on Tuesday that things need to stay that way, saying a return to normal life "must not lead to a relapse." Other countries are also planning their reopenings, including the worst-hit like Italy and Spain Spain, which has recorded more than 230,000 cases and more than 24,000 deaths from the coronavirus so far, has implemented one of the world's harshest lockdowns. On Sunday, it allowed children 14 years to go outside once a day for one hour. There has been no spike in cases or deaths since: it has recorded some 2,700 new cases and 300 deaths a day since Saturday. But Health Minister Salvador Illa described its baby steps to reopen as "a first step towards easing" the lockdown, and plans are now in place to let people of other ages to go outside for walks from Friday and for places like bars to open, with limited capacity, from early May. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also warned that the reopening must be slow and cautious as the virus is "still lurking." And Italy, which has seen 27,000 deaths — more than any other country in Europe — has announced a gradual easing of restrictions from May 4, including people being allowed to visit parks, visit relatives living in the same region, and take public transport with a limited number of people on board. France, which has recorded more than 23,000 deaths, will begin to ease restrictions on shops and schools on May 11, but Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that moving too quickly could cause the virus to surge. Portugal, Austria, and Belgium have all also outlined plans to start easing restrictions in early May. The world will be watching keenly.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the Navy's largest hospital ship can help with the coronavirus