European leaders are reversing course on Covid recovery in Europe. They have rushed to introduce a number of new travel bans, lockdown measures, and travel restrictions amid panic at rising Covid cases and Omicron’s arrival. 

Austria is the most extreme, putting the whole country under lockdown from December 11th to February 11, while officials work to pass a law making vaccination compulsory. The deadline for the law’s implementation is February.

Germany appears to be following Vienna’s lead. Angela Merkel, Germany’s prime minister, announced yesterday that all unvaccinated persons will be prohibited from public areas in the days leading up to Christmas. MPs are now debating the jab mandate. However the government supports putting it in place before February. 

Brussels expressed cautious support for vaccination mandates this week with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stating that member states should ‘think about’ making mandatory jabs mandatory. However, she acknowledged that Brussels doesn’t have the authority to create a blanket law. 

Leaders claim they were forced to take action due to rising cases rates, even before Omicron was introduced. It is believed that Omicron has the most infectious variant yet of Covid. 15 European countries have reported cases. There were warnings that the virus was probably in circulation for weeks before it was detected.

In an effort to slow down the spread of Omicron, countries have moved quickly to ban travel from Southern Africa (where it first appeared) and tighten their restrictions on other countries. Scientists are still trying determine how dangerous the virus is.

Yesterday’s statement by the European Centre for Disease Control indicated that the risk posed to continent’s Covid recovery may be “very high”. However, there is much more to learn and data to come.

This is the current situation on the continent in the middle of the Covid storm…

Europe is seeing an increase in covid cases. Leaders are warning that the health system may be overloaded before Omicron, which has been thought to have more serious effects than the Omicron variant.

Austria

Parliament voted on Thursday to extend the country’s lockdown until at least December 11,  meaning all citizens will be confined to their homes except for ‘essential’ activities until at least that date.

All non-essential shops closed after November 22nd will be maintained. Even essential shops must now close by 7pm. 

Even if Parliament votes to lift the lockdown December 11, government officials have stated that the unvaccinated would be subject to more severe measures than those who had been given their shots.

Lawmakers continue to work on legislation that will make vaccinations compulsory for everyone who is eligible. The new rules are expected to be in place by February 1.

The government has yet to outline exactly how the rules would work, or what the penalties for violation would be – though it is expected to be fine instead of a  criminal charge.

Lockdown seems to have helped to lower the country’s cases tolls, now at around 9,000 per daily, down from 15,000 when it first came into effect.

Germany

Angela Merkel declared on Thursday that her only option was to restore lockdown, despite daily case numbers exceeding 74,000.

The unjabbed will not be allowed to enter any businesses, except the most essential. They will also be prohibited from gathering together in public and private spaces in excess of four people.

In most places, mask wearing will be required.

Merkel indicated that Parliament will immediately start debating the nationwide mandate for vaccines. This is her personal support, with Olaf Scholz (incoming Chancellor) also supporting it.

Scholz stated that Scholz will allow the Bundestag to vote on the law for free, with the intention of it being introduced as soon as possible in February 2013.

Germany also has tightened its travel regulations. Those boarding flights in South Africa are now prohibited, except for a few exceptions like German citizens. To enter, most other travelers must be immunized.

Germany has this-week announced that most public spaces will be off-limits for the unvaccinated in the near future, with parliament debating making jabs mandatory for everyone from February next year

Germany announced this week that public places will soon be closed to the unvaccinated. Parliament is currently considering making mandatory vaccinations in February 2019.

Italy 

This week, Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced that there will be a tightening nationwide of the rules surrounding the “Green Pass”, Italy’s equivalent to Covid passes. It will go into effect on Monday.

Super Green Pass, which was recently renamed, will restrict the activities of people who have not been vaccinated. It prohibits them from taking long-distance trains and also bars and indoor restaurants, and gyms.

This is because the pass has been expanded to include all workers over recent weeks. Anyone required to visit an office or work place must be double-jabbed, or recover from Covid. Workers can attend with negative tests, but must take a test every 48 hours at a cost of £12.60 a time.

No plans have been made to mandate vaccines. Italy’s high vaccination rate is above average, at 72%. This puts it well beyond the 70 percent theoretically required for herd immunity.

Italy’s Health Chiefs stated that the country was ‘well prepared for winter’ after the successful vaccination drive. However, boosters and vaccines for children 5-11 years old will still be available.

France 

The French government is refusing to impose any harsher or more extensive lockdowns despite rapidly increasing cases – possibly with an eye towards the forthcoming presidential election.

Recently, the country expanded access to its “Passe Sanitaire” – its Covid version – to more locations such as skiing slopes. They also gave an expiry date of seven month from the completion of their first course of vaccination. The pass can be renewed by a booster shot, and is valid for all people over 12, including tourists.

The rules for travel were tightened as all visitors must be fully vaccinated, and pass a negative screening. Fears of Omicron varietals have also led to travel bans from South Africa. France has confirmed that it is the first Omicron-related case in the country. The only prior case was detected on the island of La Reunion.

Olivier Veran (French Health Minister) said today that current waves of COVID-19 could hit a peak in January. It will place a strain on France’s hospitals.

He stated that the “5th wave” in rapidly spreading (…) has had an extremely noticeable effect on the hospital system.

Cases are trending up across the continent but have plateaued or begun dropping in countries which imposed lockdowns, as leaders desperately try to keep their economies open through Christmas

While cases are rising across Europe, they’ve slowed or stopped falling in certain countries. This is because leaders want to ensure their economy remains open throughout Christmas.

Deaths from the virus are also rising noticeably, particularly in Greece and Austria where vaccine rates are low - though they are not yet anywhere near as high as in the first and second waves

The death rate from the virus is on the rise in Austria and Greece, where the vaccine rates are very low. However they aren’t as high yet as in the first or second wave.

Greece

Greece has only 63% Covid-vaccinated citizens, making it vulnerable to this winter-wave of infection. In recent weeks, the number of cases and deaths have risen to new highs.

With 17 per cent of its over-60s unjabbed and 90 per cent of Covid deaths happening in this age group, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis this week announced that jabs will be compulsory for this age group from January.

From January 16, anyone in breach of the rules will be fined £85 per month for every month they do not comply.

Mr Mitsotakis said the decision had ‘tortured’ him, but in the end concluded it was the right thing to do in order to save lives. ‘I don’t care whether the measure will cost me some extra votes in the elections,’ he added.

After Greece also placed restrictions on people who are not vaccinated, they were banned from entering most public indoor spaces. Holders of vaccine passes over 60 years old were given an expiry date. This means that they will need to be renewed to ensure their validity.

‘This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ Mitsotakis declared. Grief is grieving the loss of unnecessary lives because Greece does not receive as many vaccinations as other European nations. 

Switzerland

Switzerland granted a referendum on the issue of whether health passes should be imposed on public indoor spaces. This was a rare decision. It passed by a wide margin, 60 percent.

Since September, the pass, which can be used to verify that a person has been vaccinated against Coivd or has had a negative test, or is otherwise healthy, was in effect. The vote has now been approved by voters.

Switzerland recently implemented tight border controls to stop anyone entering the country via a country where Omicron was detected, as well as other European countries.

All persons arriving from this country must quarantine within 10 days of arrival.

Belgium

Alexander de Croo Prime Minister declared the Covid situation in his country ‘flashing orange’. He increased the Covid measures in two weeks and they are in place today.

They include vaccine passports to enter high-risk areas such as nightclubs, restaurants and bars, with negative tests or masks now needed in addition to the jabs.

Public places now require face-masks for all persons over 10. Staff members must be able to work at home for at most four of the five days.

All healthcare workers will have to be vaccinated starting April 2022. 

Mask-wearing mandates, social distancing measures and vaccine passes have become common policy across Europe as it battles through another Covid winter (pictured, people in Belgium)

Europe is currently battling another Covid winter with mandates to wear masks, social distancing, and vaccine passes. (Photo: People in Belgium)

Netherlands

In the midst of a fourth round of Covid cases being filed, the government increased domestic restrictions from November 28 to at least December 19. These restrictions include an enforced face mask in nearly all public places and a midnight curfew.

Non-essential shops must be closed by 5 pm, while essential shops may open up until 8pm. There is a night curfew. Most businesses require a covid pass to gain entry. This includes proof of previous infections, vaccinations, and negative tests.

The maximum number of people invited to home gatherings is four. All sporting events are held behind closed doors. After 5 p.m., amateur sports are not allowed. 

Sweden  

Sweden was a pioneer in the Lockdown-Free Covid approach, preferring to advise to mandatory measures and light touch restrictions.

A high percentage of vaccines are also administered to the country. 70% have been given fully and only 4% of them received one dose.

However, the government warns that the new package of measures will likely be put in place ‘next Week’ to combat the virus. The threat of an uncertain winter has caused cases to increase and caused them to spread.

It seems that Sweden is going to have a more relaxed approach to transport than other European nations. Swedes are urged not to take public transportation and to seek social distance. They also encouraged to work remotely with a mix of face-to–face work.

However, the Covid pass is available only to indoor events with over 100 participants and no other pandemic prevention measures. 

Spain 

Spain is a notable exception in Europe. It has, like Portugal, overseen the largest global vaccine drive and as such it is not seeing many deaths from this winter wave.

The vaccines have now been administered to more than 80 percent of all eligible persons, which means that everyone aged 12 and older has received the jab. They will also be given to those between the ages of 5 and 11, with minimal resistance.

This means Spain was able to avoid mandates and lockdowns that are common elsewhere in Europe.

While there’s no mandatory lockdown in effect, certain regions with high numbers of cases have been bringing in Covid Pass systems. These require a jab or negative test, as well as past infections, to gain entry.

Carolina Darias is the nation’s vaccine minister and has categorically rejected a mandate for vaccines on the ground that they are unnecessary.

Spain is one of few countries to not ban travel from Southern Africa. However, all visitors from that region must be thoroughly jabbed. Other travellers should also be thoroughly jabbed.