White House rejects return of COVID-19 shutdowns as Europe’s new lockdowns spark protests

The White House said Monday it has no plans to shut down the economy again as COVID-19 chaos grips Europe, with lockdowns intended to thwart a fourth wave sparking violent protests.

A German official said his compatriots will be “vaccinated, cured or dead”.

Austrians were told to stay home for 10 days from Monday, except to go to work or school, run errands or exercise, prompting thousands of people to protest on the streets of Vienna. Similar protests against a partial COVID-19 lockdown broke out in the Netherlands, resulting in fires and clashes with police, and tens of thousands of Belgians took to the streets as politicians warned of a virus crackdown.

White House Covid-19 Coordinator Jeff Zichs said the US has no interest in joining the fray.

“No, we’re not going that way. We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic — widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kid shots, therapies, including monoclonal antibodies to help those who contract the virus,” he said during a COVID-19 task force. briefing. “We can stop the spread of the virus without shutting down our economy in any way.”

Viral spikes in Europe tend to predict what lies ahead for Americans. Outbreaks in Italy and Spain at the start of the pandemic preceded a flurry of cases in New York City, and a variant known as “Alpha” hit the UK before overwhelming the US and the rest of the world.

Mr Biden faces pushback on vaccine mandates in the workplace but has avoided talking about 2020-style restrictions, instead preferring to promote vaccines and millions of courses of COVID-19 treatment pills to buy in advance.

Any attempt to renew draconian business restrictions would be devastating to Mr. Biden and is “just dead — dead on arrival,” said Arthur Caplan, a director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

Politically, he already has problems with the economy. Restricting the economy would seal the fate of the congressional elections,” said Mr. Caplan.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence that you can control this stupid virus by locking people up. You get a little relief and then boom, we’re back,” he added. “The toll of restrictions – massive restrictions – is just enormous. It is totally untenable when you have an option that is purely pharmaceutical.”

Colorado governor Jared Polis recently placed medical breakthroughs above restrictions as his state battles a wave of Mountain West. He said he doesn’t plan to issue a statewide mask mandate because cases are similar to New Mexico despite mask rules, and “scientists just don’t know why our region is peaking.”

“We wouldn’t talk about this if everyone had been vaccinated,” said Polis, a Democrat, at a news conference this month. “If you are not vaccinated, you will get COVID. Maybe this week, maybe this month, maybe next year.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who recently won re-election after fending off attacks over COVID-19 lockdowns, spent his virus briefing Monday promoting boosters and a program connecting employers and workers seeking to recover from the pandemic. slop, instead of closing again.

In addition to vaccines and know-how, he said, “We have other treatments, monoclonal antibodies, that we didn’t have. Thank goodness we have the antivirals and many more tools in our toolbox.”

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recently lifted a city mask mandate, although Erie County officials in Buffalo, New York, countered the trend and said Monday they would reintroduce a mask mandate on Tuesday. If cases don’t abate, the county will review vaccine mandates in “phase two” before considering capacity constraints or shutdowns in phases three and four if the first steps don’t work.

“My own view is that stricter measures would only be taken if there were a substantial increase in COVID-related hospitalizations that would compromise the overall capacity of the health care system,” said Daniel Kuritzkes, head of the infectious diseases division. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Mr Zients said decisions about how to manage the virus are often made at the local level because transmission and vaccination rates differ within the community, although he emphasized scientific interventions.

“We need to use the tools we have and get more people vaccinated, to keep people safe without regressing in any form,” he said.

He dismissed economic lockdowns as counterparts across the pond grapple with the fallout from restrictions ranging from mandatory vaccinations in Austria from Feb. 1 – the first such move in the West – to a “partial lockdown” that will leave bars and restaurants in the Netherlands. need to close early. Protests in Rotterdam led to confrontations with the police, who used tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators who had thrown fireworks at them.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the protests “pure violence” by “idiots”, and Belgian leader Alexander de Croo called a similar protest of 35,000 in Brussels “absolutely unacceptable,” according to Agence France-Presse.

In Germany, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said the number of infections is doubling every 12 days in a “very dramatic situation”, prompting a dire warning from a top health official.

“Probably by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said, virtually everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

He promoted shots of Pfizer-BioTech and Moderna as the Mercedes-Benz and Rolls Royce of vaccines, though he didn’t rule out another widespread lockdown as Ms Merkel hinted stronger measures will be needed.

About 67% of Germans are fully vaccinated, but rates are much lower in eastern regions like Saxony, where cultural sites, restaurants, bars and Christmas markets will be closed for three weeks, according to Deutsche Welle media.

Some people see Europe’s viral surge as a direct warning to the US, where the number of cases has risen to over 90,000 a day after dropping to the low of 70,000 in late October. Hospital admissions have surpassed 50,000.

It’s not as bad as last year’s Thanksgiving week, when the US registered 170,000 cases a day and averaged 90,000 hospitalizations ahead of the vaccine rollout that began in December. But the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

“We are experiencing the onset of a winter wave, the effects of too many unvaccinated people, and the need for boosters to stop infection,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Scientists say the current spike is caused by the fast-moving delta variant, which struck just when the antibody responses from early vaccinations began to wane. In addition, the US, like Europe, may have relaxed mask guidance prematurely and opened the door for unvaccinated individuals to shed face coverings as well.

Analysts said they don’t expect European governments to be deterred from the strong positions they are putting out, even amid protests.

“It is not surprising that Europe may be heading down that path. Many of the countries are downright socialist nations where there is an inherent confidence that government has the answer to all things and to all problems,” said Colin Reed, a GOP strategist and who worked as spokesperson for former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. , a Republican.

In the US, however, “the fact that Biden is stepping on the brakes speaks of political danger that advocating such a policy could pose,” Mr Reed said. “It’s pretty clear that Americans got tired of the forced mandates a long time ago. I think the way out of this is through vaccines and getting people to make the decision to get vaccinated.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said every country is different, but the US has the luxury of adequate vaccines and Mr Biden’s health team has not recommended any shutdowns.

Officials last year advised people to avoid holiday gatherings, but the Biden administration told Americans it should be safe to enjoy Thanksgiving on Thursday with fellow vaccinated individuals.

The White House is begging about 47 million adults and 12 million teens who are eligible for shots but have not been vaccinated to come forward for the shots. They also urged vaccinated individuals to receive an additional dose of one of the three approved vaccines if they received their first series at least six months ago.

Cyrus Shahpar, the COVID-19 data coordinator for the White House, tweeted that 461,000 people came forward to get vaccinated on Sunday and 890,000 came forward for a booster shot.

As it stands, four in 10 Americans have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 18% of fully vaccinated people — about 35 million people — have been boosted.

Whether it’s enough to help the US avert a large-scale disaster and European-style deadlocks on the streets will be revealed in the coming weeks.

“People suffer from fatigue. I’ve been vaxxed three times now and I’m tired of the restrictions,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “I think we’re going to have a real test when people get together for Thanksgiving and the holidays. If we can get through that without a major outbreak, we’ll be in good shape. I think it’s a function of whether people get vaccinated or not.”

Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.

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