Europe is once again seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases — here is our summary of the measures being taken across the continent.
Some countries have taken steps targeting the unvaccinated, while programmes are also being rolled out to vaccinate young children.
Norway’s government said they would partially allow the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants.
It came after the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) had said on Wednesday that the risks of hospitalisation related to Covid were 69% lower with the Omicron variant, which makes up a large majority of Norway’s cases than the Delta variant.
In addition, the government eased quarantine rules, suggesting more testing for contacts of COVID-19 cases.
Wearing a mask remains mandatory in stores and shopping centres and it is recommended to avoid public transport at peak times with teleworking remaining the rule.
Norway has broken infection records almost daily, with 11,825 new cases reported on Wednesday.
Britain’s Health Minister Sajid Javid announced on Thursday (January 13) that self-isolation for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 has been cut from seven days to five full days if they test negative twice during their quarantine. The measure aims to “maximise activity in the economy and education,” he said.
It comes after the UK’s death toll from COVID-19 passed 151,000 after a further 398 deaths were reported on Wednesday (January 12).
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier that the country would “ride out” the Omicron wave, even as the UK reports more than 200,000 daily COVID-19 infections.
“We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again,” Johnson said, adding that Omicron was milder than other variants and that it was not translating into the same numbers of people needing intensive care.
Johnson said however that the weeks ahead would be challenging with “some services” being disrupted by staff absences. He said 100,000 critical workers would have lateral flow testing available every day.
In the meantime, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have all introduced further restrictions on leisure activities and going out to pubs and cafes.
This includes an extension of the social distancing rules and further limits on the size of gatherings.
Germany plans to further restrict access to bars and restaurants as Omicron cases increase, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
From January 15, people going to restaurants, cafés and bars will have to present a negative test in addition to proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19.
Germany had limited private gatherings to ten people and closed 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 are 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.
France announced 361,000 daily new cases on Wednesday (January 12), as hospitals prepared drastic measures to brace for patient surges and the government strained to avoid a new lockdown.
With Europe’s highest-ever single-day confirmed infection count, the Omicron-driven surge has put a strain on the country’s health care system. The number of virus patients in hospitals has been on an upward trajectory for two months, and more than 72 per cent of French ICU beds are now occupied by people with COVID-19.
The intense wave has also prompted authorities to allow health care workers who are infected with the coronavirus to keep treating patients rather than self-isolate, to ease staff shortages at medical facilities.
The French parliament passed legislation, meanwhile, to turn the health pass into a “vaccine pass” requiring vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 to access much of public life. It is to be examined by a cross-parliamentary committee later this week after the Senate added conditions to when the vaccine pass could be implemented.
New restrictions targeting the unvaccinated came into force on Monday (January 10) with a negative test no longer granting access to bars, restaurants or domestic public transport.
The government has also mandated that every people over the age of 50 will need to ba vaccinated come February 1 or risk fines.
“We want to slow down the curve and encourage Italians who have not yet been vaccinated to do so,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi stated in a government press release explaining the Council of Ministers’ measure.
Italy reported a record 220,000 new cases on Wednesday (January 12) — more than double the figure announced the day before.
The government was considering reducing the quarantine for vaccinated people, amid forecasts that more than 2 million people could be forced to isolate after close contact with infected people.
The country further tightened its restrictions on 23 December, barring unvaccinated people from public spaces and enforcing mask-wearing outdoors. Only more-protective FFP2 masks may be worn on public transport, in cinemas, theatres and stadiums.
Outdoor New Year’s Eve celebrations have been banned, and nightclubs will be closed until 31 January.
The country already requires unvaccinated EU citizens to quarantine for five days if entering the country, while vaccinated visitors from EU countries must get a negative test within 24 hours of arrival.
Romania has imposed stricter pandemic measures amid rising COVID-19 cases that authorities say could overwhelm the country’s health system.
The new measures include mandatory mask-wearing with fines up to €500, authorities said.
Bars and restaurants can stay open until 10 p.m. and operate at 50% or 30% capacity depending on the area’s infection rate, and COVID-19 passes are required.
The same goes for sporting events, gyms, and cinemas. Meanwhile, quarantine and isolation periods have been reduced.
Infections in Romania have risen from fewer than 1,000 new cases in December to around 6,000 in the past week.
Updating pandemic figures for the first time in four days, health authorities reported more than 242,000 new cases late on Friday (7 January).
Madrid 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 Sánchez also offered to deploy the armed forces to help regions step up vaccinations. Sánchez said he is targeting 80 per cent 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.
Several regions have 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.
The government was in late December rebuked by an advisory body that suspended new curbs on the cultural sector. The following day the government said it was revoking its decision, allowing theatres, cinemas, concert halls and art centres to remain open.
Under the short-lived restrictions that took effect Sunday, indoor venues had been ordered to shut their doors. Some stayed open in protest. The order came despite the assessment of the scientific committee advising the government that going to such places poses no extra risk to public health.
In an emergency procedure, the Council of State ruled that measures concerning theatres were “not proportionate,” and didn’t provide enough motives to “understand why going to cultural sector performance venues was particularly dangerous for public health.”
Protesters had gathered on December 26 after Belgium introduced the new restrictions. Museums, libraries, and fitness centres were, however, allowed to stay open.
The Belgian government also urged people to get tested ahead of the holidays. Infections have been decreasing recently but the new Omicron variant already represented 27% of new cases in the country on December 19.
Greek residents over the age of 60 have until Sunday (January 16) to complete their vaccination course or risk being fined €100 for every month they remain unvaccinated under a government mandate announced in November.
Meanwhile, the government issued an emergency order that took effect on Wednesday (January 12) forcing some private doctors specialised in pathology, pulmonology and anesthesiology to support the state health service.
The order affects four regions in Northern Greece where state hospitals are suffering acute staffing shortages.
Amid an explosion in cases, new measures had been also been rolled out in the lead-up to the end-of-year festive period including the cancellation of Christmas concerts and other events and a general mask mandate for outdoors and all public areas.
Since January 3, the use of high-protection or double masks has been mandatory at supermarkets and on public transport while entertainment venues must close at midnight. Capacity at football stadiums was cut to 10%, remote work and schedule changes were expanded in the public sector and nursing home visits are permitted for people carrying a negative PCR test result.
Incoming travellers will also be required to have follow-up tests for COVID-19 on the second and fourth days after their arrival.
Turkey reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic on January 5as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant takes hold.
The Health Ministry recorded 66,467 new cases and 143 deaths in the past 24 hours. The previous peak, reached on 16 April 2021, was 63,082 infections.
Despite the surge, the country is far from considering introducing new restrictions but is urging people to continue to wear masks and to practice social distancing.
Separately, in a statement released following a weekly meeting of the country’s coronavirus advisory council, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Turkey was reducing the quarantine period for people who have tested positive to seven days.
People who test negative on the fifth day of the quarantine will be allowed to end their isolation, he said.
People who have received booster shots or contracted the virus in the last three months would not be forced into quarantine if they have had contact with an infected person, Koca added.
On Wednesday, the Turkish Football Federation announced that fans would be asked to show proof that they had received their booster shots before being allowed to enter stadiums to watch games.
Around 83 per cent of the adult population have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines and 20 million people have received booster shots.
More than 82,000 Turkish residents have died of the virus.
The government announced on January 6 that people who had a booster jab two weeks previously would from January 10 no longer need to show a negative coronavirus test result to attend events and enter places where it otherwise would be required.
Also, anyone who has had a booster shot is now exempt from isolating, unless they live with an infected person.
Furthermore, the government scrapped a requirement to isolate if a work or school colleague tests positive. That measure had forced coworkers and entire school classes to be sent home.
Portugal has a high vaccination rate with over 87% of its population fully vaccinated against the virus.
Portugal reintroduced tighter pandemic restrictions on 1 December 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.
The Netherlands has been back under a strict nationwide lockdown since December 19 with all nonessential stores, bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters and museums ordered to close their doors.
The lockdown is in place until at least the end of January 14.
Prime minister Mark Rutte said then 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.
Just over 86% of adults are fully vaccinated and 45% have had a booster shot.
Finland decided to reintroduce internal border control at its borders starting on December 28, the country’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement on their website.
The decision – first of its kind in Europe – will remain in force until 16 January 2022.
The rule affects all Schengen states as well, and potential travellers are urged to check entry requirements before their trip.
All foreigners and non-residents entering Denmark from 27 December need a negative COVID test even if they are vaccinated, the health ministry has announced. The measure will take effect from 27 December until at least 17 January 2022.
Denmark has closed 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 must limit their number of customers, and restaurants have to close by 11 pm.
The country with the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases per head of population smashed its record on Wednesday (December 29) with 23,228 confirmed cases over the previous 24 hours.
The number of coronavirus infections in Denmark started to rise sharply in early December but by later in the month the pace seemed to have levelled off. But health officials then said the number of infections had started rising dramatically again.
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 places serving food when not seated.
Omicron is now the dominant variant in Denmark, authorities confirmed.
Sweden announced new measures on December 21 including expanded use of vaccine passes.
From 23 December, 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.
In addition, measures to avoid crowding in shopping centres and bars and restaurants are only allowed to offer seated service with patrons sitting at least a metre apart.
Noting that Sweden still was seeing relatively low levels of COVID-19, director of the country’s Public Health Agency, Karin Tegmark Wisell, said that the strain on Sweden’s healthcare had increased as a result of coronavirus coupled with other viruses and the seasonal flu.
Nearly 1.5 million Swedes are still not vaccinated.
Ireland issued an 8 pm curfew on pubs and restaurants in order to curb rising COVID-19 cases from December 19. Indoor events are restricted with limits on the capacity for all events.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Omicron was going to cause a “massive rise in infections” with more than a third of the country’s new cases due to the new variant.
The measures will last until at least 30 January.
The country already tightened restrictions from December 7, with nightclubs closing, and social distancing re-established in pubs, restaurants, and hotels.
Capacity in indoor and sports venues, where masks are already compulsory, was limited to 50 per cent. A health pass is already required for entry to leisure venues.
Health authorities announced on December 31 that cantons could reduce the quarantine of contact cases to seven days from the previous ten and limit it to “people who live in the same household or have been in intimate contact with a person who has tested positive”.
Switzerland has already restricted public life for those who are unvaccinated.
Only people who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 will be able to access restaurants, cultural venues, or other indoor events. Private family gatherings should be limited to ten people.
Swiss voters approved by a clear margin the so-called ‘COVID-19 law’ in a referendum on 28 November.
The legislation, which is already in force, includes a pandemic recovery package and the application of a controversial COVID certificate.
The Austrian government, frustrated at the country’s relatively low vaccine uptake, has made the vaccine mandatory for all adults from February.
Austria lifted its lockdown on 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 a 10 pm curfew for restaurants and an FFP2 mask is required on public transport and in indoor spaces.
Austria has tightened entry rules into the country. As of December 25, people aged over 12 arriving from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway must have had a third vaccine dose and present a negative COVID test result no older than 48 hours.
Cyprus on December 18 toughened COVID-19 screening for all travellers from the UK over age 12, including requiring them to quarantine until results are in from a lab test performed at the airport.
Cyprus’ Health Ministry cited Britain’s “drastic increase” in omicron variant cases as the reason for the stepped-up measures, which apply to travellers regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.
Arriving passengers who test positive must remain in isolation until officials contact them with further instructions, while those who test negative will be given five rapid test kits that they must use during their stays on the Mediterranean island.
The island has been experiencing an increase in infections as well, with the seven-day average of almost 600 cases still somewhat below the peak 1,009 cases per week Cyprus saw in July 2021.
Since January 11, the isolation requirement for those who tested positive for the coronavirus was cut from 14 days to five. Quarantine time for close contacts of people who test positive has also been shortened.
Protests have been ongoing in the country over the previous government’s decision to impose mandatory vaccination on certain groups including people over the age of 60.
The order is due to take effect in March, but it still might end up being overturned.
In the nation of 10.7 million, 6.7 million are considered fully vaccinated, while over 2.8 million have received a booster shot.
Ukraine has seen a decrease in the number of daily cases in recent days, with 2,988 cases reported on December 26.
This marked a significant improvement compared to the situation in mid-December, when the country reported about 9,000 cases and 2,028 hospitalisations registered just on December 17.
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.