Countries across Europe are reimposing stricter measures to combat a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections sparked by the highly transmissible omicron strain, sparking protests from Paris to Barcelona.
Ministers in France, Cyprus, and Austria strengthened travel restrictions as the number of cases increased. New Year’s Eve fireworks in Paris have been canceled. Denmark’s theaters, concert halls, amusement parks, and museums have all been closed. Ireland placed a curfew of 8 p.m. on pubs and bars, as well as limiting attendance at indoor and outdoor activities.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan emphasized the government’s concern about the rising number of cases and their potential to overwhelm the healthcare system by declaring a major incident on Saturday, allowing local governments in the British city to collaborate more closely with emergency services.
In an address to the nation, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin caught the mood of the continent, stressing that the additional restrictions were necessary to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.
Martin stated Friday night, “None of this is simple.” “We’re all tired with COVID and the constraints it imposes.” Everyone is affected by twists and turns, disappointments, and frustrations. But that is the reality with which we must contend.”
The omicron version of the coronavirus has been found in 89 countries, according to the World Health Organization, and COVID-19 cases with the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in regions with community transmission, not only infections acquired abroad.
Major questions concerning omicron, including how effective existing COVID-19 vaccinations are against it and if the variant causes serious illness in many infected people, remain unsolved, according to WHO.
Despite its “substantial growth advantage” over the delta version, the U.N. health agency predicts that omicron will soon overtake delta as the prevalent form of the virus in nations where the new variant is spreading locally.
Dutch government officials met on Saturday to hear from a panel of specialists who advocate tightening the partial lockdown already in place, which has resulted in a recent drop in infection rates.
As he walked into the conference, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge didn’t disclose what actions the government may take. He told reporters in The Hague, “There are extremely severe worries.” “That’s why we’re getting together on Saturday to figure out what we have to do.”
Some stores opened earlier than normal on Saturday, and consumers raced to city center shopping districts, fearful that this would be their final chance to purchase before the holidays.
“Don’t come to the city,” the municipality of Rotterdam tweeted, claiming that it was “too busy in the center” of the port city. Amsterdam also issued a warning that the city’s major shopping strip was congested and urged residents to follow coronavirus precautions.
The government has already reimposed a need for masks to be worn indoors and forced people to produce confirmation of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test when traveling to nightclubs and large events in the United Kingdom, where confirmed daily illness reached new highs this week.
However, the actions have sparked outrage.
On Saturday, crowds stormed Oxford Street, a prominent London shopping district, to protest British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest coronavirus restrictions. The demonstrators blew whistles, chanted “Freedom!” and begged onlookers to take off their masks.
Hundreds of protesters marched with posters that read “Vaccine passports kill our freedoms” and “Don’t cooperate,” blocking traffic. “Give them the boot,” said another placard, which featured Johnson’s or UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s visage.
Scientists have warned the British government that more needs to be done to avoid hospitals becoming overburdened.
According to the BBC, leaked minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advised a prohibition on indoor mixing and hospitality.
Following early evidence showing that two doses of vaccine were less effective against the omicron type, Britain and other countries are speeding up booster shots. In the United Kingdom, shopping malls, churches, and soccer stadiums have been turned into mass vaccination facilities.
Khan warned the quickly spreading strain could disrupt the administration of public services during a visit to a mass vaccination pop-up clinic at Chelsea’s stadium in London on Saturday.
“The fundamental difficulty we have is the number of Londoners who have this virus,” he told the BBC, “and that’s leading to big issues in terms of employee absences and our public services’ capacity to run at optimal levels.” “I’m quite concerned about employee absences in the (National Health Service), the fire force, the police service, and our London boroughs.”
Omicron is currently the most common coronavirus strain in London and attempts to contact those who haven’t been vaccinated or boosted are being pushed up.
“I want to make a direct appeal to the more than 1 million Londoners who have yet to have their first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccinations – it’s never too late,” he said. “It will aid in the protection of you, your family, and our NHS.”
The vaccination will be given to youngsters aged 5 to 11 in France starting on Wednesday, according to the government. With the omicron variant spreading like “lightning,” Prime Minister Jean Castex warned Friday that the government is considering demanding proof of vaccination for anyone accessing restaurants, cafes, and other public places. The bill is awaiting Parliament’s approval.
Demonstrations are scheduled in Paris on Saturday to protest the new vaccine pass as well as continued government restrictions. There will also be demonstrations in Turin, Italy.
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