The fifth Covid wave has started in Europe. Some governments are already imposing lockdowns and wage cuts for the unvaccinated as hospitals are filling up. Mass protests against restrictions are popping up, some peaceful like in Austria, others turning violent like in the Netherlands and Belgium. A nationwide lockdown in Germany is unlikely, but local lockdowns may happen if hospitalisation rates continue to shoot up. Some patients in Bavaria have already been sent to Italian hospitals due to under-capacity, a reversal of what happened in the first wave.
France is still counting on getting through the fifth wave with no restrictions. With only five months to go before the presidential elections, these decisions will decide the fate of Emmanuel Macron. The French President’s future rests on whether France is Covid-proof enough.
Macron has promised no further restrictions and is counting on booster shots instead. Hospitalisation rates are still low, so this promise comes easily. But what if hospitalisation rates jump up? Can Macron resist imposing further restrictions or mandatory vaccinations, as in Austria? Will the public accept restrictions?
There are some rumblings about the green pass already. In Guadeloupe, one of France’s overseas territories, violent clashes broke out over the green pass and Paris had to send in special forces. On the continent, everybody seems keen to get on with life, but a threat to this recovery might tilt the balance. The divisions between those for and against restrictions will flare up again.
Even booster jabs are not without challenges. In France, only the 65 and older are entitled, but Macron hinted that this could be extended for the whole adult population. Are there enough doses, and capacity, to administer these booster jabs? Germany may give pharmacies the powers to deliver those jabs as capacity in the health care sector is already stretched. The health ministry is also actively managing vaccine stocks, rationing Pfizer and encouraging the use of the available Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
This led to a storm of protests from German doctors, as the vaccine question — and concerns over the mixing of different jabs — is a sensitive subject for German patients. What this episode tells us is that even if we are only talking about booster jabs, the potential for divisions is still there.
The fifth wave can build, or destroy, Macron’s chances of getting re-elected. He will have to demonstrate his crisis management skills and good judgement. There is no doubt that Macron excels in his management capacities. But to promise no further restrictions at this stage seems premature and could come to haunt him.
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