As the Omicron variant spreads swiftly, the Netherlands went into lockdown on Sunday, and the threat of more Covid-19 limitations being enforced ahead of the Christmas and New Year vacations loomed over numerous European countries.
In the United States, White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci advised people visiting loved ones to receive booster vaccinations and use masks in busy public places.
He claimed that Omicron was “raging over the world” and that travel would raise the chance of infection, even among those who had been vaccinated. According to a Reuters count, Covid-19 cases in the United States have increased by 50 per cent since the beginning of the month.
The country’s snap lockdown threw people’s Christmas preparations into turmoil, leaving metropolitan centres mainly abandoned.
On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the shutdown, ordering the closing of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums, and other public venues, beginning Sunday and lasting until at least January 14.
The World Health Organization said on Saturday that Omicron, a highly contagious variant discovered last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, has spread around the world and been reported in 89 countries. It stated that in regions with community transmission, the number of Omicron cases doubles in 1.5 to 3 days, but that much remains unknown about the variant, particularly the severity of the illness it produces.
While the Netherlands went all-in to keep its healthcare system from collapsing, several other European governments are mulling new restrictions – at a time when businesses rely on consumers spending more than normal on shopping, entertainment, and travel.
Overall, Covi19 infections are increasing in 64 of the 240 nations and territories tracked by Reuters, with 12 countries, including the United Kingdom, reporting more cases than at any other time throughout the pandemic.
On Sunday, health minister Sajid Javid refused to rule out the possibility that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may impose additional restrictions before Christmas.
He said the government was taking its scientists’ “sobering” recommendations seriously, that it was actively monitoring the data, and that it would weigh both against the broader impact of limitations on areas like businesses and education.
More than 100 of Johnson’s own Conservative lawmakers voted against the government’s new measures to combat what he had predicted would be a “tidal wave” of Omicron cases this week. Johnson is reeling from a succession of scandals and gaffes.
Johnson, according to Javid, is not too politically weak to enact additional restrictions if necessary.
Local newspapers in Italy reported on Sunday that the government is mulling new steps to prevent an outbreak of diseases during the holiday season.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi may require persons who have been vaccinated to additionally demonstrate a negative test to enter crowded locations, including as nightclubs and stadiums, after meeting with ministers on Dec. 23, according to the daily Corriere della Sera.
On Sunday, Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, ruled out a Christmas lockdown, but warned that a fifth COVID-19 wave could not be avoided, and that obligatory vaccination was the only way to stop the epidemic.
(Adapted from EuroNews.com)