Europe is tightening lockdowns even after mass protests and rioting last week as its winter wave of Covid continues to worsen with Germany forced to airlift patients out of overflowing hospitals in the hard-hit south.
Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, warned that infections in his country are now ‘worse than the worst-case scenario’ as he announced that nightclubs will have to shut their doors while restaurants and bars will be forced to close at 11pm starting on Saturday.
‘We have been hoodwinked by the Delta variant,’ Mr De Croo said, just hours before a case of the Botswana strain – believed to be even-more infectious than Delta – was confirmed in his country, making it the first in Europe.
The EU Commission has since recommended suspending all travel between Europe and southern African countries where the new variant has been discovered to protect the continent.
Meanwhile the Netherlands is poised to extend a night-time curfew that has been in place since November 12, forcing restaurants and non-essential shops to close between 5pm and 5am each day despite riots
And Germany, which has tightened restrictions on the unvaccinated in recent days, summoned the Luftwaffe to its hard-hit southern regions to airlift patients out.
A Covid patient is airlifted out of hospital in Germany’s hard-hit southern region of Bavaria after wards overflowed with cases rising sharply
As patients were loaded on to planes, health minister Jens Spahn called for people to ‘massively’ reduce their social contacts or else risk a Christmas lockdown
Covid cases are hitting all-time highs in many countries in Europe, as leaders rush to reimpose lockdowns and target the unvaccinated with the harshest measures
Doctors were pictured loading patients on to aircraft at the main airport in Memmingen, Bavaria, as health minister Jens Spahn called for a ‘massive restrictions of contacts’ – hinting that full lockdown will be necessary if cases don’t fall soon.
In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge are scheduled to give a news conference at 7pm local time to outline the new measures.
‘That we need measures – tough measures – is beyond doubt,’ De Jonge said on Thursday shortly after a meeting of ministers to discuss the crisis.
He said a panel of experts that advises the government on its coronavirus policies has advised the use of measures that will force a turnaround in the rising line of infections. ‘That turnaround won’t happen on its own,’ De Jonge said.
Infections and deaths are soaring across Europe as the continent is hit by a virulent winter wave of Covid that has seen the return of lockdown measures that many assumed were a thing of the past following the summer’s vaccination drive.
Leaders have warned that not enough people have voluntarily taken up the jabs to prevent community transmission, and are trying to drive up their vaccination figures by targeting the unvaccinated.
Austria has gone the furthest, initially confining the unjabbed to their homes before making vaccines mandatory for everyone who is eligible.
Germany, Italy and France have also targeted the unvaccinated by expanding the use of their health pass systems – requiring people to be vaccinated to enter a range of public spaces and businesses.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran was the latest to announce measures on Thursday night, saying it would make COVID-19 booster shots available to all adults, toughen rules on wearing face masks and ramp up health pass checks.
The number of infections is doubling every 11 days in France but officials said there was no need to follow Austria’s example of reimposing a lockdown.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said anyone aged 18 or over would be eligible for booster shots and that the period between full vaccination and the booster jabs would be shortened to five months from six.
Brussels is considering harsher measures on travel as the continent suffers through a winter wave of Covid that has caused virus deaths to spike
In a piece of positive news, cases appear to be levelling off in Austria and the Netherlands after both countries imposed restrictions
France will require everyone over the age of 12 to show a vaccine passport in order to access ski slopes from December 4
‘We still have our fate in our hands,’ Veran told a news conference, urging people to respect social distancing rules.
Booster shots are currently available only to over-65s and to those with underlying health issues.
France currently holds about 25 million doses, enough to accelerate the booster campaign, Veran said. Earlier, France’s health regulator (HAS) backed a widening of the campaign.
France reported over 30,000 new infections for a second consecutive day on Wednesday, a sequence unseen since late April.
The seven-day moving average of daily new cases – which evens out reporting irregularities – stands at a three-month high of 21,761 and has almost quadrupled in a month.
Veran said he would ask the HAS and medical ethics committee to examine whether children aged 5 to 11 should be vaccinated. Any programme for such children would not begin before 2022.
Earlier, the EU’s drug regulator approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds as Europe fights a spike in infections.
Booster shots will become a requirement for a valid health pass, which is needed in France to enter restaurants, cafes, cinemas and museums, among other public venues, Veran said. The pass shows proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test.
After Veran’s announcement, vaccination bookings soared, causing medical appointments app Doctolib to freeze. At 1615 GMT, the app gave a waiting time of more than 30 minutes to book a vaccination.
The new rules will potentially cause chaos for anyone planning a ski holiday to France this winter, after health passes were also extended to the slopes.
Everyone over the age of 12 will now have to provide proof they are double-vaccinated to access the slopes and that their last jab was no more than seven months ago, under plans announced Thursday by health minister Olivier Veran.
That poses multiple issues for British travellers – with children aged under 16 unable to get a vaccination passport and those aged 12-15 only eligible for one jab.
Additionally, boosters are currently only being offered to Britons aged over 40 meaning people in their mid-to-late 30s whose second doses were given in June risk missing out as their passports will ‘expire’ in January.
European leaders are relying on vaccinations to combat the new Covid wave, cutting the time required to get booster jabs and restricting the activities of the unjabbed
Covid deaths in Europe hit 1.5million on Thursday amid WHO warnings that another 700,000 people could die before the end of winter