Thousands of people marched through central Brussels today in protest against tightened COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the government to counter the latest spike in coronavirus cases.
Police used water cannons to control the crowds as hordes of protestors marched through the streets towards the headquarters of the European Union, shouting ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ and carrying placards which read ‘everyday facism’ emblazoned with yellow stars, drawing comparisons with the identification tags Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The government on Friday introduced fresh Covid restrictions – the third week in a row that rules have been tightened amid the latest surge in cases.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that kindergartens and primary schools will close for the holiday season a week early, and children must now wear masks from the age of 6. Indoor events will only be allowed with a maximum of 200 people.
Previously, the government closed nightclubs, and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11pm for three weeks.
The protests in Belgium come just one day after many cities in Europe saw masses of protestors marching in kind against new restrictions in the run up to Christmas – upwards of 40,000 people held demonstrations in Vienna, Austria, while thousands more piled into the streets of Utrecht in the Netherlands and Frankfurt in Germany.
Austria last month became the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a lockdown, which is set to last 20 days, and said it would make vaccinations mandatory from February.
It comes as governments across Europe warn of the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant which has now been registered in several nations including the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Norway.
Demonstrators light fireworks during a protest against coronavirus measures in Brussels, Belgium, today as riot police shelter behind vehicles
Police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators as clashes erupted during a demonstration against Belgium government’s measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 and mandatory vaccination in Brussels today
A demonstrator holds a banner reading ‘the mask need to fell’ during a protest against the Belgian government’s restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease
Demonstrators protest against the Belgian government’s restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brussels, Belgium December 5, 2021
Demonstrators march during a protest against coronavirus measures in Brussels, Belgium, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. Kindergartens and primary schools will now close for the holiday season a week early, on Dec. 20, children must wear masks from the age of 6
Belgium reported a weekly average of 17,862 new daily cases this week, a rise of 6 per cent over the previous week, with hospital admissions up 4 per cent.
More than 3,700 people are in hospital with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care, while more than 27,000 people have died since the outbreak began last year.
Meanwhile in Austria, police used pepper spray and made several arrests on Saturday when more than 40,000 people marched through Vienna to protest against a lockdown and plans to make vaccinations compulsory.
Faced with a surge in infections, the government last month made Austria the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a lockdown and said it would make vaccinations mandatory from February.
People carried signs saying: ‘I will decide for myself’, ‘Make Austria Great Again’, and ‘New Elections’ – a nod to the political turmoil that has seen three chancellors within two months – as crowds gathered.
‘I am here because I am against against forced vaccinations. I am for human rights, and the violation of human rights should be stopped,’ one protester told Reuters.
‘We are protecting our children,’ said another.
In Austria, unvaccinated people who breach lockdown rules face fines of up to €500. Anyone refusing to comply with vaccination status checks could be fined up to €1,450.
Austria, a country of 8.9 million people, has reported nearly 1.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 12,000 COVID-19-linked deaths since the pandemic began last year.
People take part in an anti-coronavirus measures protest in Brussels, Belgium, 05 December 2021. In a move to tackle yet another COVID-19 wave, the Belgian government imposed strict measures, pushing thousands to the streets to protest against mandatory vaccinations, health pass and anti-coronavirus measures.
People protesting against lockdown measures and Covid vaccinations march through Vienna city centre yesterday
Several thousand people also gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.
It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against last week’s measures, which include a night-time closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases.
The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places.
Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.
Smaller protests were also held in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as in Barcelona, Spain and the city of York.
A banner, right, reads ‘Unvaccinated Lives Matter’ as thousands of demonstrators marched in Utrecht, Netherlands, yesterday
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in York for a so-called ‘freedom protest’ and took part in musical performances in front of York Minster yesterday
Demonstrators waved flags as they took part in protests in York on Saturday
Britain’s Omicron outbreak grows by more than 50% in a day: 86 new cases take total to 246 as scientist warns its ‘too late’ to halt spread and variant could become dominant strain in weeks
The number of new Omicron cases reported in the UK has risen by 86 bringing the total number of cases to 246 – an increase of more than 50 per cent in the space of a day.
The UK Health Security Agency, who publish the figures, said 18 of the new cases are in Scotland taking their total to 48.
It comes as a leading scientist warned Britain has left it ‘too late’ to halt the spread of the Omicron super-variant.
Professor Mark Woolhouse said bringing in new curbs on travel was ‘a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’.
The Edinburgh University epidemiologist said it was ‘spreading pretty rapidly’ and could become the world’s dominant strain.
On Saturday, it was announced all travellers arriving in England will be required to take a Covid-19 pre-departure test from Tuesday.
Ministers said the test was intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel.
Meanwhile Nigeria is being added to the Government’s travel red list in a blow for those wanting to see family over the festive period.