The nations of Europe have moved to re-impose tougher measures to curb a new wave of COVID-19 infections stimulated by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, with the Netherlands leading the way by imposing a blockade on the whole country.
As of Sunday, all non-essential shops, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will be closed until January 14, Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a hastily held press conference on Saturday night. Schools and universities will close until Jan. 9, he said.
Confinement terms also curb private holiday celebrations. According to Rutte, residents will only be allowed two visitors, except for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when four will be allowed.
He said the move was “inevitable due to the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant affecting us”.
Not only the Dutch sought to curb the spread of Omicron. Alarmed ministers in France, Cyprus and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris has canceled the New Year’s fireworks. Denmark closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland imposed a curfew at 8pm on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has highlighted the official concern over escalating cases and their potential to overwhelm the healthcare system by declaring a major incident on Saturday, a move that will allow British capital councils to coordinate work more closely. with emergency services.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the sense of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of the resurgent virus.
“None of that is easy,” Martin said Friday night.
“We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations affect everyone. But it is the reality we are dealing with.”
Omicron’s “substantial growth.”
The World Health Organization reported on Saturday that the Omicron variant of coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 or three days in places with transmission. community-acquired and not just foreign-acquired infections.
Key questions about Omicron remain unanswered, including the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines and whether the variant causes serious illness in many infected people, the WHO noted.
However, Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the delta variant means that it is likely to soon surpass the delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant spreads locally, said the UN health agency.
In the Netherlands, the anticipation of a government meeting on Saturday would lead to tougher restrictions made shoppers swarm shopping areas of Dutch cities, fearing it would be their last chance to buy Christmas presents.
The municipality of Rotterdam tweeted that it was “too busy in the center” of the port city and told people, “Don’t come to the city.” Amsterdam also warned that the city’s main shopping street was busy and urged people to abide by the rules of the coronavirus.
In the UK, where confirmed daily cases have risen to a record high this week, the government has re-imposed the requirement to wear masks indoors and has ordered people to show vaccination tests or a recent test. of coronavirus negative when going to nightclubs and big events.
Anger at the measures
But the moves are causing anger.
Critics of the latest coronavirus restrictions by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson flooded Oxford Street, a popular shopping area of London, on Saturday. Protesters without masks whistled and shouted “Freedom!” and urged passers-by to take off their masquerades.
Hundreds of people blocked traffic as they marched with slogans such as “Vaccine passports kill our freedoms” and “Don’t comply.” Other signs had the faces of Johnson or the UK Secretary of Health, Sajid Javid, and said, “Give them the boot.”
In France, the government has announced that it will start giving the vaccine to children in the age group of five to 11 years from Wednesday. Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday that with the Omicron variant spreading like “lightning”, the government proposed requiring a vaccination test for those entering restaurants, cafes and other public establishments. The pending measure requires parliamentary approval.
Demonstrations were planned in Paris to oppose the proposed vaccine approval and ongoing government restrictions.
Thousands of opponents of vaccine requirements and mask warrants protested in Hamburg, Berlin, Düsseldorf and other German cities on Saturday. In Austria, local media reported that crowds had risen to tens of thousands.