Europeans reimpose restrictions as Omicron sweeps continent

Nations across Europe are moving to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, triggering calls for protests from Paris to Barcelona. As case numbers escalated, alarmed ministers in France, and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris cancelled its New Year's Eve fireworks. Denmark closed theatres, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland imposed an 8pm curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events. READ MORE: Partial lockdown announced in Denmark as COVID-19 cases numbers surge Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the sense of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus. "None of this is easy," Martin said Friday night. "We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a ..

Nations across Europe are moving to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, triggering calls for protests from Paris to Barcelona.

As case numbers escalated, alarmed ministers in France, and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris cancelled its New Year's Eve fireworks. Denmark closed theatres, concert halls, amusement parks and museums.

Ireland imposed an 8pm curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.

READ MORE: Partial lockdown announced in Denmark as COVID-19 cases numbers surge

Travellers stand in front of an information board at BER Airport in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the sense of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.

"None of this is easy," Martin said Friday night. "We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with."

Other nations may go further still. Dutch government ministers are meeting Saturday to discuss advice from a panel of experts who are recommending a toughening of the partial lockdown that is already in place.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge didn't say what measures the government might impose as he headed into the meeting.

A doctor vaccinates a young woman with Moderna's mRNA vaccine at the Dresden State Art Collections in Dresden, Germany, Dec. 18, 2021.

"There are very serious concerns," he told reporters in The Hague." That's why we're meeting on Saturday to see what we need to do."

Some stores opened earlier than usual Saturday and shoppers flocked into city centre shopping areas, fearing it could be their last chance to shop before Christmas.

Rotterdam municipality tweeted that it was "too busy in the centre" of the port city and told people: "Don't come to the city." Amsterdam also warned that the city's main shopping street was busy and urged people to stick to coronavirus rules.

In the UK, where confirmed daily infection soared to records this week, the government has already reimposed a requirement for masks to be worn indoors and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test when going to night clubs and large events.

Two women dressed for a party take photos of each other outside a venue in London,  Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

Now scientists are warning that the government needs to go further to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Leaked minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies suggested a ban on indoor mixing and hospitality, the BBC reported.

During a visit to a mass vaccination pop-up clinic at London soccer team Chelsea's stadium on Saturday, Mayor Sadiq Khan said the running of public services could be impeded by the rapidly spreading variant.

"The big issue we have is the number of Londoners who have this virus and that's leading to big issues in relation to staff absences and the ability of our public services to run at the optimum levels,'' he told the BBC. "I'm incredibly worried about staff absences in the (National Health Service), in the fire brigade, in the police service, in our councils across London.''

People walk for their vaccination into Stamford Bridge Stadium, at Chelsea, in London, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.

Omicron is now the dominant coronavirus variant in London and efforts were being stepped up to reach people who haven't yet been vaccinated or boosted.

"I want to make a direct appeal to the more than 1 million Londoners who are yet to come forward for any COVID-19 vaccinations — it's never too late to get your first or second dose,'' he said. "It will help to protect you, your loved ones and our NHS."

Britain and other nations are also accelerating the pace of booster shots after early data showed that two doses of vaccine were less effective against the Omicron variant. Shopping centres, cathedrals and soccer stadiums in Britain have been converted into mass vaccination centres.

The Berlin police takes away a participant of the forbidden demonstration of opponents of Corona rules in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021

In France, the government announced that it will start giving the vaccine to children in the 5 to 11 age group beginning Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said Friday that with the Omicron variant spreading like "lightning" the government proposed requiring proof of vaccination for those entering restaurants, cafes and other public establishments. The measure is pending approval by Parliament.

Demonstrations are planned Saturday in Paris to voice opposition to the new vaccine pass and ongoing government restrictions. Protests are also scheduled to take place in Turin, Italy.

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