by Giannis Paleologos
On the eve of the holidays, the threat of "Omicron" has led to the reinstatement of strict restrictive measures in many European countries, in order to curb the spread of the super-contagious new variant. On Saturday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the imposition of a general lockdown which began yesterday and will last until January 14. During this period, bars, restaurants, museums, cinemas as well as other entertainment venues will remain closed.
Germany, meanwhile, followed France's example yesterday and barred British travelers from entering the country.
The Netherlands, with 74% of its population fully vaccinated but low in booster doses (below 10%), recorded 15,000 cases per day per week between December 8-14. Omicron is expected to be the dominant variant in the country before the end of the year.
In neighboring Belgium (77% fully vaccinated, 27% booster), the Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of stricter measures. The epidemic has been in recession in recent weeks in the country, but Omicron is already responsible for one in ten cases. However, the Minister of Health of Wallonia in her statements (La Libre) ruled out the possibility of a general lockdown.
The Irish government has decided to limit the operation of restaurants, bars and pubs until 8 p.m. for six weeks, and lower the numbers of participants in public events. 77% of Irish people are fully vaccinated and 30% have received a booster dose. The Irish Prime Minister M. Martin described the measures as necessary, as Omicron will cause a number of cases "much bigger than anything we have seen so far". The rate of cases in the country associated with the new variant reached 35% on Friday, from 14% just three days earlier.
Denmark (78% fully vaccinated, 27% with booster dose) decided on Friday to close all entertainment venues (theaters, museums, cinemas, etc.). Shops with an area of less than 2,000 sq.m. and restaurants will be able to receive a smaller number of customers. The restaurants will serve their last meals at 10 p.m. and will close at 11 p.m.
Germany, meanwhile, followed France's example yesterday and barred British travelers from entering the country. Germans and permanent residents of Germany will be able to return, but only with a negative PCR test and provided they remain in quarantine for 14 days. The new German Minister of Health, the epidemiologist Karl Lautenbach, spoke yesterday about a "huge fifth wave" as a result of the spread of the new strain.
Austria, as of today, requires a negative PCR test from travelers who have not received the booster dose. Even double-vaccinated people will be quarantined until they can test negative. Apart from those who have received the booster dose, those who have received a vaccine dose and have proof of a previous illness are also exempt from the obligation. Austria becomes the sixth country in the EU requiring a negative test from arrivals within the bloc, after Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.
The government has already implemented a three-week lockdown, which ended on December 13 (hotels and restaurants in Vienna opened only yesterday). Austria also became the first country to impose compulsory vaccination, with a deadline of 1 February, for all Austrians aged 14 and over.