COVID in Europe: EU countries begin vaccinating under-12s as Omicron spreads

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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.

United Kingdom

The UK set another record with a further 88,376 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, almost 10,000 more than the day before.

In England, the chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see in the festive period — and pubs and restaurants said many were heeding that advice by cancelling Christmas parties, though there has been much debate about what’s OK to do right now.

A new requirement for COVID passes in order to enter large venues has come into force in England, following a vote in the British Parliament on Tuesday (December 14). MPs also backed extending mandatory mask-wearing, and mandatory vaccinations for health service workers.

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.

The measures were passed despite a sizeable rebellion among MPs from Boris Johnson’s own Conservative party.

The prime minister has warned that the country faces a “tidal wave” of infections from the Omicron coronavirus variant, announcing a huge increase in booster vaccinations for all adults by the end of December. The previous target was the end of January.

He has called for thousands of volunteers to staff new vaccination centres.

With cases of the highly transmissible variant said to be doubling every two to three days in Britain, the government has raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level.

Austria

Austria lifted its lockdown on Sunday (December 12) for people with a “2G” pass, meaning they were vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently recovered from the illness.

People without the certificate are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work or for other essential purposes.

There is an 11 pm curfew for restaurants and an FFP2 mask is required on public transport and in indoor spaces.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Vienna over the weekend to protest against mandatory vaccination and other virus measures.

The government, frustrated at the country’s relatively low vaccine uptake, plans to make COVID vaccinations compulsory for all adults, taking effect from February.

Some Austrian provinces have begun vaccinating children aged 5-11 with a lower dose of the adult vaccine.

Russia

Russian authorities on Monday (December 13) backed away from introducing some of the restrictions for the unvaccinated that were announced a month ago and elicited public outrage all across the vast country where vaccine uptake remains low.

The speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house, on Monday announced the withdrawal of a bill restricting access to domestic and international flights and trains to those who do not present a health pass attesting they have been fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from COVID-19 or are medically exempt from vaccination.

The bill, along with another outlining similar restrictions in many public places, had been expected to go through the first reading on Thursday, but speaker Vyacheslav Volodin cited “a joint decision by the State Duma and the government” to withdraw it from the parliament’s agenda for now. The other bill is still going forward.

The two bills were introduced a month ago, as Russia was struggling with its deadliest and largest surge of COVID-19, which came amid low vaccination rates, lax public attitudes to taking precautions and few restrictions. Officials said the new measures would take effect in February 2022, but the suggested restrictions proved unpopular almost immediately after they were announced.

Less than 50% of Russia’s 146-million population has been fully vaccinated so far, even though Russia was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a coronavirus vaccine a year ago.

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Denmark

Starting on 15 December, students in Denmark must study remotely for the last few days before Christmas due to concerns about COVID-19.

The Danish government also ordered nightclubs, bars and restaurants to close in an attempt to counter an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen 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.

The measures apply as of Friday and are set to last for four weeks.

Denmark will also bring forward the administration of the COVID booster dose to all those over 40 years of age in order to curb the surge in new infections and the spread of the Omicron variant.

The country began vaccinating children aged 5-11 in late November.

The Danish health authorities expect the Omicron variant to become dominant in Copenhagen as early as this week.

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.

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. Public transport is being limited to 75% of capacity.

Germany

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.

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.

Some German regions including Berlin have begun vaccinating children under 12.

Czech Republic

Several thousand people marched through the Czech capital on Sunday (December 12), protesting a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for certain groups including people age 60 and over.

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

France

Prime Minister Jean Castex stressed on Monday that “even if the circulation (of Omicron) today in France remains low, our duty is to anticipate on the basis of what we know”.

“The truth is that we do not yet know exactly when this variant will spread itself, but experience leads us to say that we must be prepared for it because in the end variants always end up imposing themselves,” he added.

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France 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.

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. It has now extended the vaccine mandate to school personnel, law enforcement, the military and anyone working in a health care setting.

A basic health pass, which includes the possibility of having a negative COVID-19 test, is now required for local transport.

On Tuesday (December 14) a new rule was introduced requiring any unvaccinated visitor from another EU country to quarantine for five days after arriving.

Under the new requirement, vaccinated visitors from EU countries must get a negative test within 24 hours of arrival to circulate freely in Italy. Non-EU citizens who are not vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days.

Italy on Tuesday recorded over 20,000 new infections and 120 COVID deaths, the highest single-day death tally in the new surge.

Belgium

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.

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.

Ireland

Ireland tightened restrictions from December 7, with nightclubs closing, and social distancing re-established in pubs, restaurants and hotels.

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, was 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.

Greece

Greek authorities approved vaccinating 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.

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.

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Since mid-November, nearly 200,000 Spaniards who were reluctant to get the vaccine at first have now finally taken the step.

Spain has given the go-ahead for children aged under 12 to be vaccinated.

Netherlands

On 14 December the government ordered elementary schools to close a week early for Christmas holidays, and the country’s existing lockdown was extended until January 14.

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 theaters 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.

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.

Some retail stores such as for electronics, shoes, or household goods can be open between 5am and 8pm.

Many events are subject to a COVID-19 health pass.

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 decreasing 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 1,073 new cases reported on Sunday (December 12) and 27 deaths. The health ministry said that more than 80% of the deaths were people who are unvaccinated.

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.

Source

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