As the coronavirus pandemic accelerated in Europe, Germany and Belgium hit new grim milestones in terms of recorded fatalities from the disease.
Belgium topped 20,000 deaths on Sunday, while Germany”s toll reached 40,000 with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning that the worst is yet to come as the country waits for the vaccinations to take effect.
The coming weeks will be “the hardest phase of the pandemic” with medical personnel working to the maximum of their capacities, the leader added.
More than 80 per cent of the beds in the country’s intensive care units are occupied.
Germany was just one of the countries that announced new restrictive measures last week, extending and tightening a nationwide lockdown.
“We must further reduce our social contacts in order to fight [the pandemic],” Merkel said when she announced the measures, which will be in place until at least January 31.
Now, under even tighter new rules, people in areas that are considered hotspots for the virus will not be allowed to travel more than 15 km from their homes without a good reason.
And those arriving in the country who have come from a destination deemed to be high risk will need to provide two negative test results, with a mandatory five-day quarantine even in cases where the first test is negative.
Belgium is in first place in the world for mortality relative to population, with a rate of 1,725 deaths per million inhabitants.
Half of the 20,000 COVID-related deaths it reported on Sunday were residents of retirement homes, according to official data.
In the United Kingdom, where the death toll exceeded 80,000 on Saturday, a third lockdown was announced in England and a second in Scotland, while similar measures are in place in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The NHS is “currently facing the most dangerous situation we can remember,” warned Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England. “If the virus continues on this course, hospitals will be in real difficulty, and that will be very soon,” he added.
Many Europeans are pinning their hopes on the vaccination programmes currently gaining pace on the continent, but some countries, like France, have been criticised for the slow rollout of the jabs.
Since the first COVID-19 related death was announced by China on January 11, 2020, the virus has claimed more than 1.9 million lives worldwide and plunged the planet into an unprecedented economic crisis.