Much of Europe has opened up to international visitors and scaled back Covid-19 restrictions since a wave of cases swept the continent in the spring.
Those steps back toward pre-Covid life have been accompanied by a gradual rise in cases and hospitalizations in many nations, with the more transmissible Delta variant dominant in the region.
However, vaccination rollouts have kept hospital admissions far below where they were in the first months of 2021.
As a result, Europe presents a varied picture as governments brace for a potential rise in cases in the autumn and winter months.
Here’s the situation in five key European countries.
After beginning 2021 with one of Europe’s longest and strictest lockdowns, the UK lifted virtually all remaining restrictions in July despite an uptick in cases. Large events and nightclubs are able to operate without distancing measures, and masks are no longer required in most public places.
Hospitalizations have trickled up since that date. In early September, daily admissions of Covid-19 patients reached a seven-day rolling average of 1,000 for the first time since February, according to official data.
But the UK’s strong vaccination rollout has kept numbers far below where they were in the winter peak; in January more than 4,000 people were admitted to British hospitals every day with the virus, despite cases being only slightly higher than they are now.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that restrictions could return in the winter if the country’s National Health Service (NHS) risks becoming overwhelmed. «Covid is still out there. The disease sadly still remains a risk,» he said at a press conference.
Hospital admissions in France rose throughout August, amid warnings of a fourth wave of the virus hitting facilities across the country. By the end of the month more than 11,000 people were in hospitals with Covid-19.
But hospitalizations have shown some signs of leveling off in September. The total number of patients has dipped back below 10,000 — well shy of the country’s April surge, when more than 30,000 people were being cared for.
France has implemented strict restrictions on unvaccinated people in an effort to advance its rollout. As of Thursday, healthcare workers are required to be fully immunized, and «health passes» are needed in order to enter restaurants or travel long distances.
The government has confirmed that around 3,000 healthcare workers have been suspended after missing the deadline to get fully vaccinated.
Italy was battling a huge surge in hospitalizations in April, with more than 32,000 people admitted to the country’s health care facilities. The number of patients then dropped to a low of around 1,250 in mid-July, before climbing again in recent weeks, according to Our World in Data.
The country has seen just under 5,000 hospitalizations in recent days.
After being hit hard in the early stages of the first wave, Italy was one of the first countries to reopen to visitors in 2020. In 2021, entry has been largely limited to residents of the European Union, plus a select list of non-EU countries, including the USA, Canada, Japan and the UK.
Italy on Thursday became the first country in Europe to make it mandatory for all public and private sector workers to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from infection. The rule is aimed at persuading more people to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and is due to come into force on October 15.
«This is to make these [work] places safer, and make the vaccination campaign even stronger,» Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. He called the decree «a strategy that points on the vaccine as fundamental key to open a new season.» Around 75% of the Italian population aged 12 years and over have currently been fully vaccinated, according to government figures.
Ireland has fared better than some of its closest neighbors in terms of case numbers and deaths, which are among the lowest in Europe — thanks in large part to one of Europe’s harshest lockdowns throughout the pandemic.
Alongside its EU counterparts, it has now reopened to visitors. Hospitalizations have trickled up since then, but still stayed lower than in previous waves.
There are now signs of a plateau in hospital admissions — around 60 people have been in intensive care units each day throughout September, compared to a peak of 221 in January.
Unlike the neighboring UK, Ireland is still limiting capacity at large indoor and outdoor events, including sporting fixtures.
Ireland’s restrictions are set to be eased from September 20, with fully vaccinated people allowed to meet indoors in groups of up to 100. From October 22, the government plans to remove the final remaining restrictions on face coverings, social distancing and large gatherings.
Denmark essentially returned to pre-pandemic life this month, allowing citizens to enter nightclubs and restaurants without showing a «Covid passport,» use public transport without wearing a face covering and meet in large numbers without restrictions.
It is too early to tell if that move will lead to a significant rise in cases and hospitalizations. The number of people in hospital in Denmark has hovered above 100 in recent weeks — again a small fraction of the previous wave in January, when nearly 1,000 people were in hospital.
The transmission rate, or R-rate, currently stands at 0.7, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke tweeted Wednesday, meaning that the epidemic is continuing to shrink. If it’s above 1.0, Covid-19 cases will increase in the near future. If it’s below 1.0, cases will decrease in the near future.
«The vaccines and all citizens in Denmark’s great efforts over a long period of time are the basis for us to do so well,» Heunicke said.
The country has seen far lower case rates than its neighbor Sweden, which became an outlier in western Europe when it resisted a strict lockdown in 2020. But the two nations are now roughly in line in terms of hospitalizations.