Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, much of our focus has been on domestic issues. While the current lenient approach to COVID-19 restrictions does have its benefits for the U.S., many other countries have been able to enact stricter protocols to decrease COVID-19 numbers. Each country has had a different approach to combating the virus, which is becoming even more apparent now as numbers are hitting new highs across the globe, even with the new availability of several COVID-19 vaccines.
Japan’s government recently extended its state of emergency to even more prefectures, bringing the total number to 11. This state of emergency, which at press time was set to lift on Mar. 7, urges restaurants, bars, and other similar establishments to close by 8 p.m. each night. Fines for violating these restrictions were just passed in the Parliament’s lower house. Japan is looking at extending the state of emergency to all 47 prefectures, according to Toshio Nakagawa, the head of the Japan Medical Association.
Japan’s number of cases and deaths are much smaller than that of the U.S., even considering the fact that their population hovers at around one third of that of the U.S. Currently, the number of recorded cases is around 390,000 and the number of COVID-19-related deaths sits at around 5,750. Japan is still planning on hosting the Olympics this summer, which are set to begin on July 23, as the head of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, Yoshiro Mori, has recently said that it would be “absolutely impossible” to postpone the games for a second time.
With the discovery of the more contagious new strain of the virus in the United Kingdom, the U.K. has witnessed a large surge in cases and hospitalizations. Because of this, the U.K.’s health secretary is considering opening up hotels for COVID-19 patients who require minimal treatment and supervision. The U.K. is currently under a national lockdown, and although Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes that this lockdown is beginning to show signs of success, the Labour Party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer is arguing that further restrictions are needed.
Besides the lockdown in England, there are similar restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In fact, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently announced even heavier restrictions for Scotland, which has generally been more proactive than Westminster leadership throughout the pandemic. Compared to many other countries that are rolling out vaccines, the U.K. has been moving much quicker and is nearing 10 million vaccinations. However, Johnson has expressed that there may be limits on the supply of vaccines that are now becoming apparent.
In response to the discovery of the COVID-19 U.K. variant that has already spread around the world, Germany has further tightened restrictions in traveling into, as well as out of, the country. This new plan would require people entering Germany from places where the variant is present and cases are rising to provide negative test results. Germany has also been in lockdown for some time, and although this lockdown was planned to lift on Feb. 1, Jens Spahn, the German Minister of Health, believes that this is no longer possible. Similarly to the U.S., Germany’s vaccine rollout has been slower than expected, which has been criticized by much of the nation.
Most recently, France has extended its mandatory curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 25 departments. Previously, the French government put in place a curfew on all metropolitan areas, which is still currently in place. These new restrictions come as hospitalizations are on the rise, and cases in more rural areas, such as the Alps, are nearly as high as those in Paris and its surrounding territory. Because of the new variant, travel restrictions have been put in place; however, they are currently directed only at the U.K., even though the variant has been found in numerous countries. As in Germany, the limited number of people who are allowed to travel between the U.K. and France must present a negative test.
Again, vaccine rollout is not happening as expected, and as the French government is facing criticism for its slow pace in comparison to other European nations, the French Ministry of Health, led by Olivier Veran, will be releasing daily briefs on the number of regional vaccinations each evening. As of Jan. 11, only 138,000 people have been vaccinated, even as the number of vaccines available is increasing at a rate of 500,000 per week and will become 1,000,000 per week soon.
Russia is planning to launch a mass vaccination movement within the coming weeks, as President Vladimir Putin plans to continue to use Russia’s own vaccine, claiming that it is the best one in circulation. The Russian government has also placed restrictions on travel with the U.K., including a suspension of flights that is set to last into February. Private clinics in Moscow are in negotiations with Pfizer to receive their own vaccinations as early as February, which would allow them to begin administering the Pfizer vaccine prior to its official registration by the Kremlin.
Currently, the Russian government claims that over 1.5 million people around the world have received their Sputnik V vaccination, although it is not clear where this vaccine has been administered outside of Russia. However, some countries such as Algeria, have already purchased batches of the Sputnik vaccine, and others, such as Hungary, have bought smaller amounts of the vaccine and do not plan to buy mass doses.
The Chinese vaccine that is currently being developed by Sinovac Biotech has proven to be far less effective than previously predicted and was just 50.38% effective in its latest trials. Several major cities in China’s Hebei province were recently put under lockdown by the Chinese government after the highest reported outbreak in several months.
Currently, the residents of such cities, more than 28 million people, are unable to leave their homes at any point during the day. With its location right next to Beijing, any citizens of Hebei that commute into Beijing must provide negative COVID-19 tests and proof of occupation in order to enter the capital city. This new wave of cases is nowhere near the daily numbers provided by the U.S., but this lockdown serves largely as a preventative measure after numbers had remained stable and low over the past five months.