Europe’s COVID struggles

After an initial shockwave of COVID19 marching through the European continent, various critical issues became overly clear. Italy and Spain were hit hard in the first wave and were nowhere near having the medical capacity to treat the patients in need of critical care. In some regions the healthcare systems collapsed completely under the burden of COVID19 patients.

Other countries, like for example Germany, were capable of reinitiating their dormant healthcare capacity and navigate through the first crisis without hitting the limits of their capacities and critical care units. At the other side of the North Sea, the world was shocked to see how the NHS, allegedly the best healthcare system in the world, collapsed under the first wave of COVID19 patients while the British Government was still busy promoting a herd immunity approach.

Most countries implement policies that were intended to “flatten the curve” which is a combination of slowing down the spread by restrictions and early detection to make sure that the critical care capacity would not be overloaded. Italy, Spain, Austria, France, Germany, and many others escalated the counter measures into a hard lockdown to stop the first wave, or at least slow it down. Sweden decided to avoid a full lockdown and many other restrictions and seem to be counting on its population doing the smart thing. The Netherlands decided to try a so-called “smart lockdown” which was later on extended into a full lockdown without calling it that.

Throughout 2020, most European countries navigated the pandemic with these measures while waiting for the availability of vaccines, and when these finally came available, accepted a central role of the European Union for the approval and procurement process. The much discussed “high bet” from the United Kingdom to skip its own validation requirements gave the UK a 4-week head start into the vaccination campaign, and EU member states kicked off not only later but also slower.

“Organization World Champion” Germany rolled out a very structured program which was designed to prioritize first and second doses according to a strict plan to serve groups at risks and essential workers first. Throughout the vaccination campaign, the second doses regime was kept with the famous German punctuality. France opted for a “come and get it” campaign to reach maximum spread of vaccinated people throughout the population, and Italy followed a similar structure. Portugal opted for a flat-out promotion campaign of vaccination to encourage its population to join, and after a slightly delayed start, it is still the EU member with the highest share of vaccinated people.

And then it all started to go wrong… The initially successful push to vaccinate the population is slowing down. Restrictions when infection rates go up are avoided or strongly delayed. And infection rates are exploding as a result of that. Infection rates are growing so fast that even Germany is sending out warning signals about critical care capacity!

There are several reasons for these struggles. Campaigns by anti-vaccination groups have not been countered by educational and information campaigns. Something we could have and should have learned from the successes of Portugal and Spain! In addition to that, several countries had elections during 2021, like Germany and Czechia and that has led to COVID19 and restrictions being part of the election campaigns. Restrictions are not popular, and a vast line-up of politicians expressed their commitments to end restrictions in exchange for votes.

Travel restrictions have been lifted long ago, even to and from countries where populists still try to take the Boris Johnson “hope for the best and ignore the rest” ideology approach for dealing with a global pandemic. Schools are fully open, which is great for kids, and great for working parents, but also significantly increases the risks of infections as we have learned from the previous waves of this pandemic. It is mainly business as usual in Corporate Europe, and a growing number of companies and organizations have cancelled their work-from-home policies completely.

The number of “now that the pandemic is over” messages and statements is simply overwhelming, especially since the numbers coming from official sources clearly show that the pandemic is far from over. Current infection rates exceed the peaks of the previous waves, and although improved treatment and detection for now keep the death-rates lower than in early 2020, the increases are very concerning.

As long as COVID19 is able to spread, it will continue to develop new variants. As long as the immunity is below 90%, either by vaccination or by previous infection, the spread will continue. Europe has to make decisions and take actions. Some of these actions will not be appreciated by parts of the population, and definitely not increase the average popularity of the politicians who make those decisions. And a part of the measures that are needed will be stricter because the same politicians have made the popular decisions in the past, instead of making the right decisions! No problem has ever been solved by ignoring it.




Dad, consultant, coach, speaker, author. Mainly Cyber Security, leadership, responsible tech and organizational change.

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Dr. ir Johannes Drooghaag

Dr. ir Johannes Drooghaag

Dad, consultant, coach, speaker, author. Mainly Cyber Security, leadership, responsible tech and organizational change.

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