COVID-19: Analysis: why second wave of pandemic hit central Europe harder than first

This autumn’s second wave of the pandemic is battering Central Europe. Most days bring news of new record levels for infections. The second wave is hitting the region much harder than the first did.

Western Europe was hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic, especially most Southern European states, UK and the Benelux countries. Central Europe in contrast fared better with infection rates contained at relatively low levels and the health service coped well.

Currently most days bring news of yet another record level of infections across the region. The pattern of infections is highly dispersed and spiralling. The major reason seems to be that this time Central Europe has not locked down and tried to ride out the storm, shielding the economy rather than its health services.

Typology of responses

It's interesting to look at the typology of countries who have coped relatively well with the pandemic. There are three types of such states.

The first are Asian economic tigers who are technologically advanced enough to implement surveillance/track and trace and which have invested time and money in planning for how to react to pandemics as they were on the frontline of the SARS and MERS scares. China, Taiwan, South, Korea, Japan and Vietnam are the prime examples in this category

Second are small islands able to break the circuit of external mobility quickly. Places such as New Zealand, Cyprus, the Caribbean islands, and Iceland.

Third, African countries with low mobility due to a lack of transport links and poverty, with very young populations. This accounts for the vast majority of African states.

Central Europe did well in the first wave because these states acted like island states clamping down on mobility. Their performance in terms of stemming infections is not so good now that Central European states have decided to pursue a strategy of shielding the economy so mobility has not been contained. In addition track and trace are not in place either.

Highly populated western European and North American states with high mobility are also fairing badly, and they don't have track and trace in place either. Additionally, social discipline in most European states and the US is low. In places where social discipline and state organisation standards are higher, such as Scandinavia and Germany, results are better.

The good habits from the first wave, such as social distancing, wearing of face protectors, older people shielding need to return fast. The problem was that the summer led to a relaxation of attitudes towards the virus.

This situation at the beginning of the first wave was also marked by the fact that the shock of the unknown made people more willing to forego some civil liberties. But since the first wave was overcome without any disasters, this time around people have been dragging their feet over changing their behaviour.

Governments are far more reluctant to close down the economy because of the known costs of the lockdown in the spring. Businesses have also barely got over the shock of the first lockdown and want to avoid another one.

However, the step by step approach of introducing more severe restrictions in areas with high infection rates and leaving other parts of the country more open has not worked as had been hoped. As the infection rates have spiralled Czechia and Slovakia have introduced states of emergency and Poland is not ruling one out either.

Monday in Poland brought some respite to the surge, but that may just be reflective of lower rates of testing at the weekend. But the government is taking no chances and is setting up 500 hospital beds in the conference facilities space of the National Stadium in Warsaw.