Europe’s virus control on fire amid rising risk
At least ‘1 to 2 years’ needed to achieve herd immunity via vaccination
Published: Dec 18, 2020 10:48 PM


Experts believe that Europe is at risk of spinning out of control on Christmas despite recent strict measures against COVID-19, and immunologists said a 70 percent vaccination rate is needed to achieve herd immunity, which takes at least 1 to 2 years.

WHO warned Europe faces a high risk of another wave of infections in early 2021 and urged people wear masks during Christmas. WHO's appeal came as French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, following Germany's hard lockdown on Wednesday.

Germany, Europe's largest economy, reported over 30,000 COVID-19 cases on Thursday. Germany fell into a second wave since October, and the situation seems "out of control," Bavaria's governor Markus Soeder recently warned. 

Germany imposed a strict lockdown on Wednesday until at least January 10, closing most of stores to avoid further virus spread during Christmas shopping. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that if people have too much contact over Christmas, "it may turn out to be the last Christmas with the grandparents," CNA reported. 

Swedish King Carl Gustaf said recently that the country has "failed" to curb COVID-19 as infections and deaths rise. 

Sweden did not impose lockdown and mask-wearing measures, leaving schools and restaurants open and relied on individual discretion. The country reported 8,800 cases on Thursday. 

Experts reached by Global Times believe that Europe may see a COVID-19 surge around Christmas, and Macron's infection also shows that COVID-19 is already widespread in Europe. The cold weather, which is more fit for virus activity, will make it more difficult for anti-epidemic work. 

"There has been a tendency in Europe to tighten controls over the Christmas period, but it is difficult to be equally effectively as in China… It is hard for Europe to impose uniform measures, and people in Europe are hard to manage," a Beijing-based expert on immunology who requested anonymity, told the Global Times. 


A man wearing a face mask walks in the street during the COVID-19 pandemic in Stockholm, capital of Sweden, on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

"Many European residents do not listen to the advice of governments, as the party and the so-called freedom seem to be more important than life. European countries are facing the risk of imported cases, and people have nothing to do but to wait for a vaccine," an overseas Chinese in Germany told the Global Times.  

Starting December 8, the UK has started COVID-19 vaccination. The European Union also announced that it will start large-scale vaccinations on December 27. However, whether the vaccinations will tide the continent over the epidemic in a short time is still questionable

"It will take at least 1 to 2 years to achieve herd immunity via vaccination, if the vaccine is very safe and effective," the Beijing-based expert said.

A commuter walks across Westminster Bridge in London, the UK on Monday. Photo: AFP

The time still depends on the spread of COVID-19, herd immunity, the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, people's willingness to get vaccinated, and the manufacture, transport and delivery of vaccines, he said.

Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, said he doubts Europeans will be willing to get vaccinated.

"It is generally believed that a 70 percent vaccination rate is needed to achieve herd immunity," Tao said. "But I doubt whether there will be that many residents willing to be vaccinated."

France and Italy reported over 18,000 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, while Spain and the Netherlands reported 12,000 daily cases. 

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