LONDON (AP) — Nations across Europe are taking steps to reimpose tougher measures to stem a resurgence of COVID-19 infections sparked by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, including a new national lockdown declared by the Dutch government.
Schools, universities and all non-essential businesses, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands will be required to close until January 14 from Sunday, Dutch interim Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Saturday. Residents of the country will only be able to receive two visitors, except for Christmas and New Year.RELATED
New, when will four be allowed, he said.
“The Netherlands goes into lockdown again starting tomorrow,” Rutte said. He added that the decision was “unavoidable due to the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant, which is upon us.”
Before the Dutch announcement, alarmed governments in France, Cyprus and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris has canceled its end-of-year fireworks display. Denmark closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland imposed a curfew for bars and limited attendance at events, both indoors and outdoors.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan reiterated official concern about the rise in cases and their potential to overwhelm the public health system. On Saturday it declared the existence of a “major incident”, a step that allows local councils in the capital to coordinate more closely with the emergency services.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin captured the sentiment of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were necessary 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 frustrations are taking a heavy toll on everyone, but the reality is we’re dealing with it.”
The World Health Organization reported on Saturday that the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries and that cases of COVID-19 related to the variant are doubling every 1.3 to 3 days, in places with community infections and not just foreign-acquired infections.
Many important questions about omicron remain unanswered, including the effectiveness of each of the existing COVID-19 vaccines. There are also no conclusive data yet on other details of the omicron, such as its severity, the health agency said.
In the UK, where daily confirmed cases soared to record numbers this week, the government has re-imposed a requirement that masks be worn indoors and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test. when trying to get into nightclubs and crowded events.
Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.
Associated Press reporters Courtney Bonnell in London; Emily Schultheis in Vienna; and Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.