COVID in Europe: Belgium closes cinemas as Spain brings back masks

By | 24.12.2021
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Europe is once again seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases — here is our summary of the measures being taken across the continent.In some parts, the increase has been compounded by the emergence of the new Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa.Some countries have taken steps targeting the unvaccinated, while programmes are also being rolled out in several nations to vaccinate young children.

BelgiumBelgium will close cinemas, theatres and other indoor recreational activities as the Omicron spreads.Museums, libraries and fitness centres will be able to stay open. The Belgian government is also urging people to get tested ahead of the holidays.Meanwhile, thousands protested in Brussels on Sunday (December 19) against the government’s measures including health care workers who will need to be vaccinated from April or risk losing their jobs.Infections have been decreasing recently but the new variant already represents 27% of the new cases in the country, authorities said.
SpainSpain will make mask-wearing outdoors mandatory once again, with the prime minister set to pass a law by decree.The country reported record-high COVID-19 infections as the Omicron variant takes hold.Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also offered to deploy the armed forces to help regions step up vaccinations. Sánchez said he is targeting 80% of the 60-69 age group to have received booster shots by the end of next week, among other goals.COVID-19 tests for professional use will temporarily be placed on sale at pharmacies, amid a reported shortage of tests as well.Authorities in Catalonia, one of the country’s most populous regions, announced on Monday they were bringing back restrictions which include a 1 am curfew, the closure of nightlife, and capacity limits. The measures will come into force on Thursday pending judicial review.Several regions have also introduced stricter measures for the unvaccinated ahead of the Christmas season, extending the 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.GermanyGermany will limit private gatherings to 10 people and close nightclubs ahead of the new year as the country faces a “massive fifth wave” of COVID-19 due to Omicron.Large events such as football matches will be held without an audience as part of new restrictions that will come into effect on 28 December.Restrictions already in place target mainly the unvaccinated, with proof of vaccination or recovery required to enter nonessential stores among other things. As of Sunday, UK tourists are banned from Germany.The country’s national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, added the UK to its list of “virus variant areas”. This means anyone travelling from the UK to Germany must present a negative PCR test no older than 48 hours and enter a mandatory quarantine for 14 days, regardless of their vaccination status.The UK joins eight African countries, including South Africa, on Germany’s list of “virus variant areas”.Germany also considers France and Denmark “high-risk areas,” meaning those who are not vaccinated or recovered from the virus must quarantine for 10 days after entering the country. Dozens of countries, including nearly all of Germany’s direct neighbours, have now been added to this category.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.PortugalPortugal announced new restrictions over Christmas and the New Year. Working from home will become mandatory and bars and discotheques will be shut from Saturday.People will need to test negative for the virus to access cinemas, theatres, sports events, weddings and baptisms until at least 9 January. On Christmas and New Year’s, people will need a negative test result to access restaurants and public celebrations.On New Year’s Eve, no more than 10 people can gather in the street, and drinking alcohol outdoors will be prohibited.This comes despite Portugal’s high vaccination rate with around 86% of its population fully vaccinated against the virus.Portugal reintroduced tighter pandemic restrictions on December 1 to contain a new surge in infections. Face masks once again became 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.United KingdomThe British government has so far resisted imposing new restrictions ahead of the holidays even as it continues to battle a major rise in COVID-19 cases, driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant.Prime minister Boris Johnson said the government could take “further action” to protect public health, adding that they were following the situation “hour by hour”. The country recently registered more than 100,000 new cases.However, London mayor Sadiq Khan announced on Monday that traditional New Year’s Eve festivities in Britain’s capital were cancelled.Over the weekend Khan declared a “major incident” after a “huge surge” of Omicron cases in the city. Major incident acts as a warning that hospitals and emergency services are unable to respond as they normally would due to extenuating circumstances.In England, the chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see in the festive period.People now need certificates to get into nightclubs and sports stadiums, to prove they have been fully vaccinated or have had a recent negative test. Similar schemes are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.Health Minister Sajid Javid announced on Wednesday (December 22) that the mandatory self-isolation period for people who test positive has been cut from 10 days to seven days provided they have two negative lateral flow tests on days 6 and 7. He said the move was “to minimise the disruption COVID has on people’s lives”.Johnson had warned that the country faced a “tidal wave” of infections from the Omicron variant, announcing a huge increase in booster vaccinations for all adults by the end of December. The previous target was the end of January.FranceFrance’s government approved COVID-19 jabs for children five to 11 years old on Wednesday (December 22).Vaccinations for children who are at risk for severe COVID-19 began last week.The health ministry has for now ruled out offering booster doses to teenagers, for whom vaccination started in mid-June.It comes as the government urged people to get tested and keep holiday gatherings small amid high infections due to COVID-19.Prime Minister Jean Castex said that in the new year the “health pass” will turn into a “vaccine pass” with more restrictions on people who are unvaccinated.The government has not ruled out going “beyond” the current measures in the event of a “very strong resumption of the epidemic linked to the Omicron variant”, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Tuesday.According to the government spokesman, France is entering “a period of turbulence with Omicron”, noting that this variant of the coronavirus is resulting in “a flood of contaminations” in the UK.In Paris, the mayor’s office announced on Saturday (December 18) that the fireworks and concerts planned on the famous avenue des Champs-Elysées for New Year’s Eve have been cancelled. Castex asked all other mayors to consider cancelling their plans for public celebrations on December 31 as well.France already closed 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.And from 30 January, all caregivers and firefighters in France will have to receive a third dose.Some 76.8 per cent of France’s 67.4 million people are fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures.NetherlandsThe Netherlands is back to a nationwide lockdown since Sunday (December 19) to curb the Omicron variant, caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte said after a meeting with his government to discuss new restrictions.He added that the move was “unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant that is bearing down on us”.Young children registered the steepest rises in infections in a recent coronavirus surge in the Netherlands.Lockdown measures were introduced last month. Bars, restaurants and other public meeting places such as theatres and cinemas have been shutting their doors at 5 pm since November 28 and will now have to continue through the holiday season.Amateurs sporting events are also not permitted between 17:00 and 05:00 with professional sports events allowed to proceed but with no spectators.DenmarkDenmark will seek to close theatres, cinemas, concert halls, amusement parks, museums and art galleries amid a record surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.Stores and restaurants will have to limit their number of customers, and restaurants will have to close by 23:00.The government earlier 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.Omicron is now the dominant variant in Denmark, with COVID cases reaching an all-time high on Tuesday (December 21) of 13,558 cases.SwedenSweden announced new measures on Tuesday (21 December) including expanded use of vaccine passes.From December 23, people are urged to work from home, public events with between 20 and 500 attendants would need to have the audience seated and events with a larger audience will need to require proof of vaccinations.”We now need to take joint responsibility and adapt to the reality at hand,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told a press conference.

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