Netherlands lockdown returns amid Omicron’s scourge
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LONDON – Nations across Europe have decided to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections caused by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, including a new national lockdown introduced by the Dutch government .
Schools, universities and all non-essential shops, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will be closed until January 14 from Sunday, Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Saturday evening. Residents will only be allowed two visitors, with the exception of Christmas and New Years, where four will be allowed, he said.
“The Netherlands will lock in again from tomorrow,” said Rutte, adding that the move was “inevitable due to the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant hitting us”.
Ahead of the Dutch announcement, alarmed ministers in France, Cyprus and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris has canceled its New Year’s fireworks display. Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew in pubs and bars and limited participation in indoor and outdoor events.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan highlighted official concern over escalating cases and their potential to overwhelm the healthcare system by declaring a major incident on Saturday, a move that allows local councils in the British capital to coordinate more closely the work with emergency services.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin captured the meaning of the continent in a nationwide address, saying the new restrictions were necessary to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.
“None of this is easy,” Martin said Friday night. “We are all exhausted by COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, disappointments and frustrations weigh heavily on everyone. But this is the reality we face.”
The World Health Organization reported on Saturday that the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and that COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad.
Major questions about Omicron remain unanswered, including how effective are existing COVID-19 vaccines against it and whether the variant produces serious illness in many infected people, the WHO noted.
Still, Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the Delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, said the United Nations health agency.
In the Netherlands, the anticipation of a government meeting on Saturday would lead to tighter restrictions and shoppers have swarmed shopping areas in Dutch towns, fearing this will be their last chance to buy Christmas presents.
The Municipality of Rotterdam tweeted that it was “too busy in the center” of the port city and told people: “Don’t come to town”. Amsterdam also warned that the city’s main shopping street was bustling and urged people to follow coronavirus rules.
In the UK, where daily confirmed cases hit a record high this week, the government has reimposed the requirement to wear masks indoors and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent coronavirus test. negative when going to nightclubs and big events.
But the movements provoke anger.
Critics of Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest coronavirus restrictions flooded Oxford Street, a popular shopping area in London on Saturday. Protesters without masks whistled and shouted “Freedom! And told passers-by to remove their face covers.
Hundreds of people blocked traffic as they marched with placards bearing slogans such as “Passports for vaccines kill our freedoms” and “Do not comply”. Other signs had faces of Johnson or UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and read: ‘Give them the boot’.
Scientists are warning the UK government it must do more to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Leaks of minutes from the Science Advisory Panel for Emergencies suggested a ban on mixing and indoor hospitality, the BBC reported.
Britain and other countries are also stepping up the pace of booster shots after initial data showed two doses of the vaccine were less effective against the omicron variant. Shopping malls, cathedrals and football stadiums in Britain have been converted into mass vaccination centers.
During a visit to a mass vaccination pop-up clinic at the London Chelsea football team stadium on Saturday, Khan said the functioning of public services could be hampered by the fast-spreading variant.
“The big problem we have is the number of Londoners who have this virus and this is causing big problems in terms of staff absences and the ability of our public services to operate at optimal levels,” he said. told the BBC. “I’m incredibly worried about the absences of (National Health Service) staff, firefighters, police, our councils across London.”
Omicron is now the dominant variant of the coronavirus in London, and efforts have been stepped up to reach people who have not yet been vaccinated or boosted.
“I want to make a direct appeal to the over 1 million Londoners who have yet to come forward for any COVID-19 vaccine – it’s never too late to get your first or second dose,” said the mayor. “It will help protect you, your loved ones and our NHS. “
In France, the government has announced that it will start immunizing children aged 5 to 11 from Wednesday. Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday that with the spread of the omicron variant such as “lightning,” the government proposed requiring proof of vaccination for those entering restaurants, cafes and other public establishments. The pending measure requires parliamentary approval.
Demonstrations were planned in Paris to oppose the proposed vaccine pass and current government restrictions.
Thousands of opponents of mandatory vaccines and mandatory masks demonstrated in Hamburg, Berlin, Düsseldorf and other German cities on Saturday. In Austria, local media reported that the crowd had reached tens of thousands.
Corder reported from The Hague, The Netherlands. Courtney Bonnell in London; Emily Schultheis in Vienna; and Thomas Adamson in Paris, contributed to this report.
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