Europe: COVID spreads through schools, closures and lockdowns vary among countries

​Written by Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser ​

Primary school kids participate in holiday celebrations in Helecine, Belgium, December 6, 2021. Photo by Eric Lalmand/Belga via Reuters Connect.

For the first time in two months, the U.S. is averaging more than 100,000  new daily COVID cases, mostly from the Delta variant. It’s too early to know how the new Omicron variant will impact cases. Meanwhile, the European Union is being rattled with cases rising there too, though 70% of residents are at least partially vaccinated. 

Some of the highest-level outbreaks are in the most vaccinated parts of Belgium, as some people are letting their guards down and socializing like pre-pandemic days, says Kevin Whitelaw, Brussels bureau chief for Bloomberg News. 

COVID is particularly spreading through schools, as Europe just approved vaccines for kids within the past week or two, and rollout hasn’t happened in most countries, which means 5 to 12-year-olds are unvaccinated right now, Whitelaw says. 

He notes that the Delta variant seems to be driving the current spikes, including among vaccinated people. 

Differing lockdown policies  

Italy is targeting unvaccinated residents — starting today, people who want to go anywhere must be vaccinated, and just producing a negative COVID test won’t cut it, explains Whitelaw. Along with Austria and Germany which also have low vaccination rates, Italy is trying to get more people inoculated before hospitalization numbers become unmanageable, he says.  

Meanwhile in Belgium and the Netherlands, where residents are highly vaccinated, officials are trying to reduce socializing without entirely disrupting people’s lives and the economy. 

“You're seeing different levels of closures, whether it's closing nightclubs like you've seen in Belgium, and France just announced tonight about an hour ago that that's what they're going to do. … While in places like the Netherlands, they're actually closing restaurants and all kinds of other cultural and public establishments at 5 p.m. for a couple of weeks, as they try to figure out how to wrestle with the spike. So it's really a huge variation in approaches.”

Whitelaw says while the numbers are higher in Europe, they’re not as severe as the worst of the pandemic, and people are still going about their lives and traveling for work and vacations. The outdoor Christmas markets in Brussels are busy, he adds. 

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