With infections spiking again despite nearly two years of restrictions in several European countries, the continent has become the global epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic once again.
The health crisis increasingly is pitting citizen against citizen - the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.
Governments desperate to shield overburdened healthcare systems are imposing rules that limit choices for the unvaccinated in the hope that doing so will drive up rates of vaccinations.
The world has had a history of mandatory vaccines in many nations for diseases such as smallpox and polio. Yet despite a global COVID-19 death toll exceeding 5 million, despite overwhelming medical evidence that vaccines highly protect against death or serious illness from COVID-19 and slow the pandemic's spread, opposition to vaccinations remains stubbornly strong among parts of the population.
Austria on Friday went a step further, making vaccinations mandatory as of February 1. The country also went into a nationwide lockdown early Monday in a desperate effort to contain spiralling coronavirus infections.
The lockdown in the Alpine nation comes as average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks and some hospitals have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity.
Austria is among several Western European countries where infections are rising rapidly and where there are concerns that vaccination rates are insufficient to hold off a winter surge at hospitals.
Thanks largely to inoculations, hospitals in Austria are not under the same pressure they were earlier in the pandemic, but many are still straining to handle rising numbers of COVID-19 patients while also attempting to clear backlogs with exhausted or sick staff.
Protests against COVID-19 curbs rock Netherlands, Belgium, France
People continued to protest against COVID-19 curbs in parts of the Netherlands, France and Belgium.
People continued to show up in numbers across European cities on Sunday, with the police deploying water cannons and tear gases to disperse crowds. More people have been arrested, reported DW News.
Riots broke out in cities across the Netherlands, the third night in a row that police clashed with mobs of angry youths who set fires and threw rocks to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
The Netherlands imposed a partial lockdown on November 13 and is considering tighter rules for the unvaccinated in public arenas.
Meanwhile, thousands of people protested against COVID restrictions in downtown Brussels, reported DW News.
US advises against travel to Germany, Denmark over COVID-19 surge
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday advised against travel to Germany and Denmark due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in both countries.
People should avoid travelling to the two European countries, which were designated with a "Level Four" notice, and anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first, the CDC said.
As Europe becomes the COVID-19 hotspot again amidst the skyrocketing cases - Should India worry?
With India witnessing a consistent decline in COVID-19 cases, top health experts have warned people to not forget to follow the COVID appropriate behaviour in the upcoming wedding season to avoid the infection's resurgence.
According to Dr Naveet Wig, Chairperson of COVID Task Force in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the present situation resembles the time before the second wave hit the country.
"Looking around us, the feeling one gets is that we have overcome COVID-19 pandemic and the public at large has lowered the guard. It resembles the situation before the second wave hit India," Dr Wig said in an interview with ANI.
"The past one and half years of COVID have taught us a lot, the most important of which is not to underestimate the possibility of a new wave. It is important to keep up our guard as the next wave may be lurking around the corner," he added. Dr Wig further explained the COVID-19 resurgence in Europe and said, "Europe is facing a resurgent COVID-19 wave, which is forcing shutdowns and restrictions across the continent. Record level of infections and the staggering number of hospitalizations are forcing the authorities to go back to strict measures, which seemed unlikely, till recent past."
Lauding the efforts of the country in ramping up the Covid vaccination drives and efforts to lower the infection rate, he said, "Closer home, the situation is much improved with the number of new infections showing a downward trajectory for many weeks now. Authorities have done well to ramp up the vaccination drive and gradually remove restrictions in a phased manner."
Raising a sign of caution, Founder and Director of Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals Dr Shuchin Bajaj noted that the reason for the second wave was laxity on part of the people and said it is time to exercise precautions.
"Festive and wedding seasons are the times when we need to adhere to the Covid guidelines. Our negligence can lead to a grave situation. We have already seen how our ignorance towards following the Covid-19 guidelines had led to the deadly second wave. So, in the times of celebration too, we need to follow the Covid appropriate behaviours including social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands to avoid the emergence of the third wave. Fully vaccinated people should also follow the guidelines diligently," Dr Bajaj told ANI.
"It is important that public messaging should continue to encourage adherence to these measures. It is also imperative that people should complete their vaccination. Further, we should also consider booster additional dose of vaccine for people at highest risk like people above the age of 60 years are immunocompromised and come under comorbidities," Dr Wig suggested.
Dr Parinita Kaur, internal medicine doctor at Aakash Healthcare super speciality hospital said that whenever there is a large gathering, there is always a chance of exposure to infection. "A large number of people attend gatherings like weddings. So if gatherings happen, not only maximum people will be travelling from one city or state to another but also from one country to another," she stated.
"This will cause an inflow of people from other parts of the world and the infection might spread in such scenario. Be it flu, COVID or any other infection, the number of cases increase on exposure to infected people. The same happened earlier with swine flu. The infection was spread because of gatherings like weddings," she added.
Dr Kaur further noted that the COVID-19 cases tend to increase after festivals like Diwali and Holi, as observed earlier. "The same has not been observed after Diwali this year but it doesn't mean that we lower our guards. If we are attending a wedding function, we have to follow COVID guidelines like wearing masks and using sanitiser so that we do not expose ourselves to the infection," she said.
(With inputs from agencies)