COVID-19 in Europe: Germany maintains restrictions as Omicron infections keep rising

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Several countries in Europe are still registering a record number of COVID-19 infections this week — here is our summary of the situation across the continent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that Europe was entering a new phase of the virus.

WHO regional director Dr Hans Kluge said the Omicron variant made up a third of cases across the continent.

But he added that the region is moving towards “a kind of pandemic endgame”, adding that Omicron could infect 60 per cent of Europeans by March.

Some countries have taken steps targeting the unvaccinated, while others have recently lifted anti-COVID restrictions.

Germany

German authorities have decided to keep existing coronavirus restrictions in place as the highly contagious Omicron variant fuels a steep rise in infections.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors said they were also looking into how to use PCR test capacities, which have been strained in recent days.

The country has hit a series of daily infection records, with 840.3 new cases per 100,000 residents recorded over the past week. The health minister has said he expects the numbers to peak in mid-February.

Although infections are rising fast, that has not been accompanied by a big increase in hospital admissions so far.

But officials worry that Germany has a high number of unvaccinated older people in comparison with some other European countries.

German MPs are expected to hold the first debate on Wednesday on a possible universal vaccination mandate.

France

Meanwhile, in France, a new vaccine health passport was introduced Monday. Citizens aged 16 and above must prove they have been jabbed to access restaurants or bars, leisure activities, or use inter-regional public transport.

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The measure comes despite a small-scale series of protests in Paris over the weekend and political resistance.

Opponents of the policy say the reinforced measures will impinge upon daily “freedoms” and railed against what they dubbed a form of social “apartheid”.

In Bordeaux, Anaelle, a nurse, blasted compulsory vaccination as “shameful”. “People who’ve been vaccinated get sick, so what’s the point?” she asked.

Although the size of protests has dropped off in recent weeks, a hardcore remains angry at President Emmanuel Macron, who warned he will keep extending restrictions until the unvaccinated accept a coronavirus shot.

Belgium

Belgium’s health ministers have approved a recommendation for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to better protect vulnerable people.

Around 77 per cent of Belgium’s population are now fully vaccinated, while some 6.3 million citizens have received a booster dose.

But on Sunday, police fired water cannons and thick clouds of tear gas in Brussels to disperse people protesting COVID-19 vaccinations and government restrictions as parts of the crowds clashed with the authorities and destroyed property, including facades of EU institutions.

Police said the rally drew an estimated 50,000 people, with some traveling from France, Germany and other countries to take part.

United Kingdom

Fully vaccinated travelers arriving in the UK will no longer need to take a COVID-19 test from 11 February, the government has announced.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must still undergo one test before departure and another PCR test after arrival, but no longer need to isolate.

“What we are doing for travel is showing that this country is open for business, open for travellers,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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Transport minister Grant Shapps said the UK would also recognise vaccination certificates from a further 16 countries including China and Mexico.

Last week, the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England were lifted while plans are in place to end isolation for positive cases.

Italy

The coordinator of Italy’s vaccination campaign says the country “seems to have reached the peak” of Omicron infections.

General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, the country’s Extraordinary Commissioner for the implementation of pandemic health measures told the ANS news agency on Monday that “in the last two days, the number of hospital admissions has been lower than the number of discharges”.

Italy registered 139,000 new cases on Sunday, compared with between 180,000 and 200,000 in the previous days.

“We hope that this trend will be confirmed,” Figliuolo said, adding that the fall in hospitalisations was a “good sign”.

More than 87 per cent of Italian people aged over 12 have been vaccinated, according to official government figures.

Poland

More than 34,000 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed on Sunday in Poland, 132 per cent more than last week, according to the ministry of health.

However, 25 people who had contracted the coronavirus have died, ten less than a week ago. Over 825,000 people are in quarantine and 13,491 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals across the country.

A week ago, on 16 January, there were over 260,000 people in quarantine, and two weeks ago, over 151,000 people.

“So far, 2,232 cases of Omicron have been detected, which is 35 per cent of the sequenced samples,” the health authorities said on Sunday.

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Poland, a country of around 38 million, has a vaccination rate that is below the European Union average.

Kosovo

On Monday, Kosovo tightened COVID-19 measures for people coming into the country amid a surge in infections.

Travellers will need three doses of a recognised vaccine, or two doses plus a negative test, to enter Kosovo without isolating.

The restrictions will remain in place until 4 February, according to a health ministry statement.

Kosovo’s move was criticized by neighboring residents in Albania and North Macedonia who held protests at border crossings on Monday.

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