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UK deaths pass 150,000 as Germany plans to further restrict bars and restaurants
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 09 - 01 - 2022

Europe is once again seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases — here is our summary of the measures being taken across the continent.
Several nations have been reporting record numbers of new daily cases, the increase compounded by the emergence of the new Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa.
Some countries have taken steps targeting the unvaccinated, while programs are also being rolled out to vaccinate young children.
United Kingdom
The UK's death toll due to COVID-19 passed 150,000 after the country reported 313 additional deaths on Saturday (Jan. 8).
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier in the week 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
Germany plans to further restrict access to bars and restaurants as Omicron cases increase, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
From Jan. 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 Dec. 28.
Restrictions already in place target mainly the unvaccinated, with proof of vaccination or recovery required to enter nonessential stores among other things.
France
France announced a staggering 332,252 daily virus cases on Wednesday (Jan. 5), smashing a string of recent records, 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 percent 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. The Senate will review the law at the beginning of next week.
Italy
The Italian government, faced with a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, decided on Wednesday (Jan. 5) to introduce compulsory vaccination for all people over the age of 50.
"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 has been reporting an average of more than 100,000 daily cases.
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 Dec. 23, 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 Jan. 31.
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 Dec. 6 imposed new rules on those who are not vaccinated with the issuing of a "super" health pass.
Officials say 71 percent of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.
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.
Romania
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.
Spain
Updating pandemic figures for the first time in four days, health authorities reported more than 242,000 new cases late on Friday (Jan. 7).
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 percent 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 immunized, but fears of the Omicron variant have triggered a vaccination drive.
Belgium
The government was on Tuesday (Dec. 28) 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 centers 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 Sunday (Dec. 26) after Belgium introduced the new restrictions. Museums, libraries, and fitness centers 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 Dec. 19.
Greece
Christmas concerts and other events have been canceled in Greece under new restrictions announced Thursday that include a general mask mandate for outdoors and all public areas.
Incoming travelers 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 percent 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 Jan. 3.
Other measures that will be implemented starting Jan. 3 include the mandatory use of high-protection or double masks imposed at supermarkets and on public transport.
Entertainment venues will close at midnight, capacity will be cut to 10 percent at soccer stadiums, remote work and schedule changes will be expanded in the public sector and nursing home visits will only be permitted for people carrying a negative PCR test result, Plevris announced on Monday (Dec. 27)
Based on vaccine appointment data, Plevris said the adult vaccination coverage would soon rise to 80 percent. Nearly 30 percent of Greece's population has already received a booster shot.
"The Omicron variant is now apparent across the country, especially in greater Athens where there has been a considerable rise in cases," Plevris said.
Meanwhile, he confirmed there would be no further restrictions this year.
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 Jan. 16, they risk being fined €100 for every month they remain unvaccinated.
Turkey
Turkey reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday (Jan. 5) as 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 April 16, 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.
Turkey is determined to keep schools open, officials have repeatedly said.
"Despite the increase in the number of cases with the Omicron variant, there is no alarming increase in hospitalizations," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.
Still, he asked people to exercise caution, especially during hospital visits.
Separately, in a statement released following a weekly meeting of the country's coronavirus advisory council, 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.
Turkey has administered more than 134 million doses of vaccines developed by China's Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech. Last week, it also rolled out the country's first domestic vaccine, called Turkovac.
The country's health ministry is also allowing a fifth dose as a booster for people who've received two doses each of Sinovac and BioNTech vaccines.
Around 83 percent 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.
Portugal
Portugal announced new restrictions over Christmas and the New Year. Working from home will become mandatory and bars and nightclubs will be shut from Saturday.
People will need to test negative for the virus to access cinemas, theatres, sports events, weddings and baptisms until at least Jan. 9. On Christmas and New Year's, people will need a negative test result to access restaurants and public celebrations.
On New Year's Eve, no more than ten people can gather in the street, and drinking alcohol outdoors will be prohibited. This comes despite Portugal's high vaccination rate with around 87% of its population fully vaccinated against the virus.
Portugal reintroduced tighter pandemic restrictions on Dec. 1 to contain a new surge in infections. Facemasks 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.
On Dec. 25, the Portuguese Directorate-General of Health declared that Omicron became the most dominant strain, found in two-thirds of all COVID-19 cases in the country.
Portugal set a new record for daily COVID-19 cases on Dec. 31, officially reporting almost 31,000 new infections. It was the fourth straight record-breaking day.
Netherlands
The Netherlands is back to a nationwide lockdown since Sunday (Dec. 19) to curb the Omicron variant, caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte said after a meeting with his government to discuss new restrictions.
He added 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.
Lockdown measures were introduced last month. Bars, restaurants, and other public meeting places such as theatres and cinemas have been shutting their doors at 5 p.m. since Nov. 28 and will now have to continue through the holiday season.
Amateurs sporting events are also not permitted between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. with professional sports events allowed to proceed but with no spectators.
Finland
Finland decided to reintroduce internal border control at its borders starting on Tuesday Dec. 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 Jan. 16 2022.
The rule affects all Schengen states as well, and potential travellers are urged to check entry requirements before their trip.
Denmark
All foreigners and non-residents entering Denmark from Dec. 27 need a negative COVID test even if they are vaccinated, the health ministry has announced. The measure will take effect from Dec. 27 until at least Jan. 17, 2022.
Denmark has closed theaters, 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 p.m.
The country with the world's highest number of COVID-19 cases per head of population smashed its record on Wednesday (Dec. 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 leveled 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 facemasks in places serving food when not seated.
Omicron is now the dominant variant in Denmark, authorities confirmed.
Sweden
Sweden announced new measures on Tuesday (Dec. 21) including expanded use of vaccine passes.
From Dec. 23, 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 centers and bars and restaurants are only allowed to offer seated service with patrons sitting at least a meter 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
Ireland issued an 8 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in order to curb rising COVID-19 cases from Sunday (Dec. 19). Indoor events will also be 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 new measures will last until at least Jan. 30.
The country already tightened restrictions from Dec. 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 percent. A health pass is already required for entry to leisure venues.
Switzerland
Health authorities announced on Friday (Dec. 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 Nov. 28.
The legislation, which is already in force, includes a pandemic recovery package and the application of a controversial COVID certificate.
Austria
The Austrian government, frustrated at the country's relatively low vaccine uptake, plans to make COVID vaccinations compulsory for all adults, taking effect from February.
Austria lifted its lockdown on Dec. 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 p.m. 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 Dec. 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
Cyprus on Saturday (Dec. 18) toughened COVID-19 screening for all travelers 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 travelers 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.
Norway
A ten-person limit for gatherings at private homes has come 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 facemasks 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 traveler must take a PCR test within 24 hours.
Czech Republic
Several thousand people marched through the Czech capital on Sunday (Dec. 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 (Nov. 26) as the Czech Republic reported 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, nightclubs, 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.
Ukraine
Ukraine has seen a decrease in the number of daily cases in recent days, with 2,988 cases reported on Sunday (Dec. 26).
This marks a significant improvement compared to the situation in mid-December, when the country reported about 9,000 cases and 2,028 hospitalizations registered just on Dec. 17.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Nov. 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 percent.
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 838 new cases reported on Sunday (Dec. 26) and 48 deaths — a decline compared to last week's numbers. The Health Ministry said earlier that a majority of the deaths were people who are unvaccinated. — Euronews


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