COVID in Europe: Denmark, Norway and UK introduce new measures to combat Omicron spread

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COVID-19 cases are sweeping Europe once again — here is a breakdown of how each country has reacted to the surge.

It comes amid the emergence of the new Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa.

However, Delta remains, for now, the dominant force in Europe, accounting for the vast majority of new infections and putting increasing pressure on hospitals.

The World Health Organization warned in November that Europe and Central Asia could face another 700,000 COVID-19 deaths by March 1.

Here is a run-down of the latest situation across Europe.

Denmark

The Danish government announced on Wednesday that school students up to the 10th grade must study remotely for the last few days before Christmas and ordered nightclubs, bars and restaurants to close at midnight in an attempt to counter an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also recommended on Wednesday 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. The virtual teaching starts Wednesday, December 15. In Denmark, schools go on Christmas break from December 20.

On Sunday (December 5), Copenhagen reported 183 confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant. Two days earlier it had 18 confirmed cases and 42 suspected cases, according to data from the SSI public health institute.

“There are now chains of infection where the variant is found in people who have not travelled abroad or been in contact with travellers,” said SSI chief Henrik Ullum.

Denmark is one of Europe’s leaders in sequencing COVID-19 variants, allowing it to detect cases more quickly. But this does not necessarily indicate higher rates of infection.

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.

At least 13 people in Norway’s capital were infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant at a company Christmas party, officials said last week Friday.

“Our working hypothesis is that at least half of the 120 participants were infected with the Omicron variant during the party,” Preben Aavitsland, a senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told AFP.

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 will debate a proposed 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.

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The national disease control centre on Tuesday reported 36,059 new daily cases, down from 45,753 a week ago. The seven-day infection rate stood at 432.2 new cases per 100,000 residents. Another 399 deaths in 24 hours brought Germany’s total in the pandemic to 103,520.

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 COVDI-19 test, is now required for local transport.

Belgium

A protest against virus measures in Brussels ended in clashes on December 5.

Thousands of people marched through the Belgian capital to protest tightened COVID-19 restrictions enacted by the Belgian government to counter the latest spike in cases.

The main crowd had already dispersed when about 100 protesters ran into a riot police barricade cordoning off access to the European Commission. Police used water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The protests came after 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.

De Croo said 40% of intensive care beds were filled by COVID-19 patients and people were not getting the treatment they need, “a situation that cannot be tolerated”. It’s the third week in a row that restrictions have been tightened.

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.

Austria

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Austria on December 4 for the third consecutive weekend to protest against mandatory vaccination and other virus measures.

In Vienna, police counted 40,000 protesters. Authorities said several people were arrested for “disturbance to public order.”

Austria’s lockdown will continue until December 11 amid signs that the measures are helping to bring down a sky-high coronavirus infection rate. The unvaccinated, however, will remain locked down past that date, the government said.

Essential shops that were allowed to open until 9 pm, however, have to close by 7 pm since Thursday (December 2)

Ireland

Ireland moved on Friday (December 3) to tighten restrictions, announcing that nightclubs will close, and social distancing will be re-established in pubs, restaurants and hotels.

The measures will take effect on Tuesday (December 7) and run until at least January 9.

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, will be 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.

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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.

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.

United Kingdom

Prime Minister Boris 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 facemasks, 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.

The announcements come amid fears over new COVID-19 variant Omicron, whose doubling time in the UK is estimated “between two and three days,” Johnson said during a press conference, warning that the number of omicron cases “is certain to be much higher” than the 568 detected by Wednesday.

“It has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,” he told reporters.

Scientists in the UK have advised that all adults should now be included in the COVID-19 booster jab campaign in the wake of the spread of the Omicron variant.

The new variant is causing worry around the world due to the high number of mutations it has, which scientists warn could have implications for not only transmissibility but also vaccine effectiveness.

Wei Shen Lim, chairman of a UK government sub-committee on vaccinations, said at a press briefing on Monday that all adults aged 18-34 should now be included in the booster programme.

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.

Czech Republic

A 30-day state of emergency came into effect on Friday (November 26) as the Czech Republic sees 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.

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.

The central European country is currently in the midst of the world’s fastest rise in infections, and the measures, which include closing all non-essential stores, as well as bars and restaurants, are meant to help the struggling healthcare system.

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Just 45.3% of the 5.5 million population is fully vaccinated.

Russia

Amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with public health measures, more regions have made COVID-19 shots mandatory for people aged 60 and over in an effort to boost vaccine uptake and keep contagion and fatalities down.

Coronavirus infections in Russia have started to fall but daily deaths remain high.

There were more than 31,000 new infections reported on Tuesday (November 30) and around 1,195 deaths.

Cases surged in October amid low vaccination rates and lax public attitudes toward taking precautions. About 40% of Russia’s nearly 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, even though the country approved a domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine months before most of the world.

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 beginning to decrease 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 2,681 new cases reported on Wednesday (December 1) and 128 deaths.

The country has 6,470 people hospitalised with COVID-19 and 717 in intensive care units.

Romania

Like Bulgaria, Romania has found itself in the throes of a deadly spike in cases in October, but cases have now decreased significantly since the beginning of the month.

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.

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