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COVID in Europe: UK reports first Omicron death as Austria eases lockdown

Europe is one again seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases — here is our summary of the situation across the continent.

In some parts, the increase has been compounded by the emergence of the new Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa.

United Kingdom

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that at least one person is now know to have died from the Omicron variant in the UK.

“Sadly yes Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died from Omicron,” he said during a visit to a vaccination clinic in London.

“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set to one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population,” he added.

On Sunday, the British leader had warned that the country faced a “tidal wave” of infections from the omicron coronavirus variant, and announced a huge increase in booster vaccinations to strengthen defences against it.

In a televised statement, Johnson said everyone age 18 and older will be offered a third shot of vaccine by the end of this month in response to the omicron “emergency.” The previous target was the end of January.

He said cases of the highly transmissible variant are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and “there is a tidal wave of omicron coming.”

“And I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.”

Earlier in the day, the government had raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level on Sunday over the Omicron variant after medical officers recommended raising the alert level from 3 to 4 on a 5-point scale.

The doctors said early evidence shows omicron is spreading much faster than the currently dominant delta variant, and that vaccines offer less protection against it.

Johnson announced on Wednesday that England would “move to plan B” and reintroduce guidance to work from home from Monday as well as a requirement to wear face masks, including indoors.

A COVID-19 pass attesting that the holder has had both vaccine doses will also be mandatory to enter nightclubs and places with large crowds.

Austria

Austria lifted its lockdown on Sunday for people with a “2G” pass, meaning they were vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently recovered from the illness.

People without the certificate are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work or for other essential purposes.

There is an 11 pm curfew for restaurants and an FFP2 mask is required on public transport and in indoor spaces.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Vienna over the weekend to protest against mandatory vaccination and other virus measures.

Denmark

Starting on 15 December, students in Denmark must study remotely for the last few days before Christmas due to concerns about COVID-19.

The Danish government also ordered nightclubs, bars and restaurants to close in an attempt to counter an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen recommended that people work from home, banned concerts with more than 50 people standing and ordered people to wear face masks in eateries when not seated.

The measures apply as of Friday and are set to last for four weeks.

Norway

From Thursday, a 10-person limit for gatherings at private homes comes into effect to counter an increase in COVID-19 cases.

This is part of new measures announced earlier in the week by the government, which also include the reintroduction of social distancing in restaurants. Attendance at public events without assigned seating is capped at 50, while people are being urged to work from home.

The new measures are set to last four weeks although the number of people allowed at gatherings in private homes will be increased to 20 on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“We consider the situation as being serious. Both Delta and Omicron infections are increasing in Norway. The number of people who are admitted to hospitals and intensive care units is increasing,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.

Norway Christmas party causes biggest Omicron outbreak outside South Africa
The authorities recommend the use of face masks on public transportation and in shops and shopping malls.

Anyone entering Norway must be tested within 24 hours, either at the border, at a public test station or by self-test. If a rapid test comes back positive, a traveller must take a PCR test within 24 hours.

Poland

Poland will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for health workers, teachers, police, military and firefighters.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Tuesday that after March 1, vaccination will be a condition for performing jobs in these sectors.

Nightclubs will close and restaurants and theatres will operate at reduced capacity from 15 December amid rising infections.

Germany

Germany’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of a vaccine mandate for hospital and care workers as the country tries to stem a wave of coronavirus infections.

Last week, the country implemented new measures that exclude those who are unvaccinated from nonessential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues.

At least 68.9% of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75% vaccination rate.

Czech Republic

Several thousand people marched through the Czech capital on Sunday (December 12), protesting a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for certain groups including people age 60 and over.

A 30-day state of emergency came into effect on Friday (November 26) as the Czech Republic reporting record-high COVID-19 cases.

As part of the government’s anti-COVID measures, all Christmas markets across the country are banned and people will not be allowed to drink alcohol in public places, health minister Adam Vojtech said. Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, discotheques and casinos have to close at 10 p.m.

The number of people at culture and sports events will be limited to 1,000 who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 All other public gatherings can be attended by up to 100 visitors, down from 1,000.

France

France will close nightclubs from Friday (December 10) for four weeks in an effort to curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infections.

From 15 January, all adults will need a booster jab at least seven months after being fully vaccinated in order to keep their health passes. From mid-December, people over the age of 65 will need one to have their health passes extended.

According to figures released by the French public health agency, 12,096 COVID-19 patients were in hospital on Monday, including 2,191 in intensive care.

Some 76.8% of France’s 67.4 million people are fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures.

Italy

The Italian government on December 6 imposed new rules on those who are not vaccinated with the issuing of a “super” health pass.

Only people with proof of vaccination or of having recovered from COVID-19 can eat at indoor restaurants, go to the movies or attend sporting events.

A basic health pass, which includes the possibility of having a negative COVID-19 test, is now required for local transport.

Belgium

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday (December 3) that kindergartens and primary schools will close a week early for the Christmas holidays. Children must wear masks from the age of six.

There have also been protests against government plans to make vaccination mandatory for health workers early next year.

Those who refuse vaccination will be suspended from 1 January.

Brussels protest against extended virus measures

Ireland

Ireland tightened restrictions from December 7, with nightclubs closing, and social distancing re-established in pubs, restaurants and hotels.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin described the risks of heading into the Christmas period without reducing social contacts as “just too high”.

Capacity in indoor and sports venues, where masks are already compulsory, was limited to 50%. A health pass is already required for entry to leisure venues.

The measures come on top of restrictions the country announced last month due to high rates of infection that have put pressure on hospitals.

People have been told to work from home unless attending the workplace is “absolutely necessary”. Arrivals from overseas must have a negative test result in addition to being vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

Greece

Greek authorities approved vaccinated children aged 5 to 11 from 15 December amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.

The explosion in cases also prompted Greek lawmakers to approve mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for people over 60 in response to a surge in cases.

If they do not get the vaccine by 16 January, they risk being fined €100 for every month they remain unvaccinated.

Portugal

Portugal reintroduced tighter pandemic restrictions on December 1 to contain a new surge in infections. Face masks have once again become mandatory and the country tightened control of its borders.

A digital certificate proving vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 is required to access restaurants, cinemas and hotels.

Portugal has a high vaccination rate with around 86% of its population fully vaccinated against the virus.

Spain

Several regions have introduced stricter measures for the unvaccinated ahead of the Christmas season, extending use of the COVID-19 certificate to enter public places such as bars and restaurants.

Many have protested the newly imposed health passes.

More than 80% of the Spanish population is already immunised, but fears of the Omicron variant have triggered a vaccination drive.

Since mid-November, nearly 200,000 Spaniards who were reluctant to get the vaccine at first have now finally taken the step.

Netherlands

A new round of restrictions entered into force over the last weekend of November, including the closure of all non-essential shops including bars and restaurants from 17:00 to 05:00.

Hospitality and cultural venues have to ensure people are seated 1.5m apart, which “means fewer people can be admitted to these locations,” the government said.

Amateurs sporting events are also not permitted between 17:00 and 05:00 with professional sports events allowed to proceed but with no spectator.

Amateurs sporting events are also not permitted between 17:00 and 05:00 with professional sports events allowed to proceed but with no spectator.

Slovakia

Slovakia declared a 90-day state of emergency and a two-week lockdown following a spike in COVID-19 cases that saw the country’s seven-day average of cases rise above 10,000.

Some retail stores such as for electronics, shoes, or household goods can be open between 5am and 8pm.

Many events are subject to a COVID-19 health pass.

Sweden

The Swedish government has announced that from December 1 a health pass will be required to attend any event of more than 100 people.

The COVID pass — attesting that the holder has either been fully vaccinated, tested negative over the previous 72 hours or recovered from the disease over the preceding six months — has so far only been used in Sweden for travel purposes.

The government also reversed its November 1 decision to stop testing fully vaccinated people.

Ukraine

From December 9, unvaccinated civil servants and social workers will be fired, the government said.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on November 16 that those who receive two jabs of the vaccine will be given a payment of 1,000 hryvnias, or about 33 euros in an attempt to alleviate vaccination reluctance.

Statistics on how many people received both doses vary greatly, with reports claiming that it stands anywhere between 20 and 28 per cent.

Switzerland

Switzerland has moved to scrap an obligation to quarantine upon arrival in the country from Saturday (December 4), but is to tighten its testing requirements.

Quarantine had been imposed over fears of the Omicron variant, but the move is seen as redundant as domestic transmission is already apparent. Instead, tests will be required before arrival, and again in the days afterwards.

The move is seen as an important step towards saving the winter ski season.

Swiss voters approved by a clear margin the so-called ‘COVID-19 law’ in a referendum on November 28.

The legislation, which is already in force, includes a pandemic recovery package and the application of a controversial COVID certificate.

Like in many other countries in Europe, this health pass only lets people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative attend public events and gatherings.

Bulgaria

Cases are decreasing in Bulgaria after a massive surge in October but the vaccination rate is still quite low at just a quarter of the population.

There were 1,073 new cases reported on Sunday (December 12) and 27 deaths. The health ministry said that more than 80% of the deaths were people who are unvaccinated.

Croatia

Protesters gathered in Zagreb over the weekend over tighter COVID restrictions after the government announced plans to introduce mandatory COVID passes for government and public employees, including school teachers.

The nation of around four million people has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union, with only 53 per cent of the total receiving at least one jab, and only 57 per cent of the 3.3 million adults fully immunised.

Latvia

From 15 December, people must present a COVID-19 vaccination or recovery certificate in order to show up to work.

People who are not vaccinated or who have not recovered from COVID-19 are allowed in grocery shops, pharmacies and other essential shops.

(AFP)

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