COVID in Europe: Record daily cases in the UK, France and Italy


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.

Italy

Italy further tightened its restrictions on Thursday (23 December), barring unvaccinated from public spaces and enforcing mask wearing outdoors.

Outdoor New Year’s Eve celebrations have been banned, and discos will be closed until January 31.

A daily record of nearly 44,600 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours on Thursday, as well as 168 deaths.

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.

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.

France

France recorded a daily record of 91,608 COVID cases on Thursday (23 December), as Omicron spreads across the country.

The previous absolute record of 86,852 cases dates back to early November 2020, at the peak of the second epidemic wave.

The government estimates the figure will quickly exceed 100,000 new daily cases.

Pressure also continues to mount on critical care units, which have 3,208 patients compared to 3,147 on Tuesday, with 323 new admissions. 179 more deaths due to coronavirus were registered.

On Wednesday (December 22) the government approved COVID-19 jabs for children five to 11 years old.

Vaccinations for children who are at risk for severe COVID-19 began last week.

The health ministry has for now ruled out offering booster doses to teenagers, for whom vaccination started in mid-June.

It comes as the government urged people to get tested and keep holiday gatherings small amid high infections due to COVID-19.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said that in the new year the “health pass” will turn into a “vaccine pass” with more restrictions on people who are unvaccinated.

In Paris, the mayor’s office announced on Saturday (December 18) that the fireworks and concerts planned on the famous avenue des Champs-Elysées for New Year’s Eve have been cancelled.

France already 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.

And from 30 January, all caregivers and firefighters in France will have to receive a third dose.

Some 76.8 per cent of France’s 67.4 million people are fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures.

Spain

Spain 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 Sanchez also offered to deploy the armed forces to help regions step up vaccinations. Sánchez said he is targeting 80% 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.

Authorities in Catalonia, one of the country’s most populous regions, announced on Monday they were bringing back restrictions which include a 1 am curfew, the closure of nightlife, and capacity limits. The measures will come into force on Thursday evening following approval from the High Court of Justice of Catalonia. They will last for an initial period of 15 days.

It will affect all towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants where the incidence exceeds 250 cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day period, which currently is all of them.

Several regions have also 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.

United Kingdom

The British government has so far resisted imposing new restrictions ahead of the holidays even as it continues to battle a major rise in COVID-19 cases, driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the government could take “further action” to protect public health, adding that they were following the situation “hour by hour”.

On Thursday (December 23) the country registered a record 106,122 cases, with more than 100,000 cases also reported the day before.

London mayor Sadiq Khan announced on Monday that traditional New Year’s Eve festivities in Britain’s capital were cancelled.

Over the weekend Khan declared a “major incident” after a “huge surge” of Omicron cases in the city. Major incident acts as a warning that hospitals and emergency services are unable to respond as they normally would due to extenuating circumstances.

In England, the chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see in the festive period.

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.

Health Minister Sajid Javid announced on Wednesday (December 22) that the mandatory self-isolation period for people who test positive has been cut from 10 days to seven days provided they have two negative lateral flow tests on days 6 and 7. He said the move was “to minimise the disruption COVID has on people’s lives”.

Belgium

Belgium will close cinemas, theatres and other indoor recreational activities as Omicron spreads.

Museums, libraries and fitness centres will be able to stay open. The Belgian government is also urging people to get tested ahead of the holidays.

Meanwhile, thousands protested in Brussels on Sunday (December 19) against the government’s measures including health care workers who will need to be vaccinated from April or risk losing their jobs.

Infections have been decreasing recently but the new variant already represents 27% of the new cases in the country, authorities said.

Greece

Christmas concerts and other events have been cancelled in Greece under new restrictions announced Thursday that include a general mask mandate for outdoors and all public areas.

Incoming travellers will also be required to have follow-up tests for COVID-19 on the second and fourth days after their arrival.

The restrictions will take effect Friday as the country braces for the expected impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, with the public health service already under pressure and intensive care space at more than 90% capacity.

“Due to the large amount of Christmas activity and crowded conditions that it creates, the mandatory use of masks is fully justified,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a live-streamed presentation of the measures, which will remain in effect at least through January 3.

Based on vaccine appointment data, Plevris said the adult vaccination coverage would soon rise to 80%. Nearly 30% of Greece’s population has already received a booster shot.

Earlier in December, Greek authorities approved vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 amid a surge in 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.

Germany

Germany will limit private gatherings to 10 people and close 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 will be 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. As of Sunday, UK tourists are banned from Germany.

The country’s national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, added the UK to its list of “virus variant areas”. This means anyone travelling from the UK to Germany must present a negative PCR test no older than 48 hours and enter a mandatory…



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