Masks will be mandatory outdoors in French cities including Paris, Lyon and Dijon on Friday, as France is once again preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new measure is only one of several new restrictions put in place to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant.
The country reported 206,243 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Thursday, a tally above 200,000 for the second day running. The record of 208,099 was set just the day before.
The French government has urged people to be cautious during the celebrations, and while the New Year fireworks and concert in Paris have been cancelled, authorities said there won’t be a curfew.
“My New Year’s Eve won’t be particularly affected by the COVID health restrictions as I will be seeing some friends. In contrast, my studies will be affected as we have to go back to distance learning in my school. I didn’t take the last period of restrictions well as I had a little depression, so I hope this year I will be less affected,” revealed French student Timothée Pujol.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the government has banned the sale of fireworks after seeing its own Omicron cases jump above 3,000 recently. New Year’s Eve celebrations had already been previously cancelled.
In England, the National Health Service is building temporary structures at hospitals around the country to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients as Omicron fuels a new wave of infections.
The UK reported 189,213 new cases on Thursday, smashing Wednesday’s record-breaking tally of 183,037 positive tests.
The country is dogged by a shortage of tests, as Wales assists England with four million tests amid fears of New Year’s Eve celebrations turning into breeding grounds for the virus.
New coronavirus cases were also on the rise in Spain, as the country hit the tenth daily record, with an unprecedented 161,688 new confirmed infections.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Barcelona on Thursday to protest against restrictions imposed by the central government, as Spain bids to curve the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
Protesters marched in the downtown area of the city before finishing up at the Arc de Triomf Square where an improvised rave party was held without people wearing face masks.
After France, Germany, Spain and the UK, Italy was just another European country to surge to another record of 126,888 new cases on Thursday, a 30% increase from a day earlier when the previous record was hit.
“What I find shocking is that, yes, there are people who are here because they had close contact with somebody positive or they themselves had COVID, but most of the people in line are here just because of the New Year’s Eve, to go party,” said Rome resident Livia Del Nero, while queuing to get tested before the celebrations.
In Eastern Europe, the number of people to die from COVID has reached 1 million, as Russia overtook Brazil to become the country with the second-highest deaths behind the United States.