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Covid-19: Curfews, lockdowns and travel limits in place across Europe amid fears of Christmas surge

Tougher measures are being implemented across the continent.

The near-empty Kalverstraat in the centre of Amsterdam yesterday
The near-empty Kalverstraat in the centre of Amsterdam yesterday
Image: Peter Dejong/PA Images

GOVERNMENTS ACROSS EUROPE are imposing fresh Covid-19 restrictions after measures introduced in the weeks before Christmas failed to stop a rise in new cases. 

The tougher measures come as EU countries agreed to roll out vaccinations on the same day, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approves a jab.

Wales and Scotland have re-emphasised their restrictions this afternoon, following talks between their leaders, First Minister Arlene Foster and Cabinet minister Michael Gove on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Leaders in the North are set to meet tomorrow to consider whether new restrictions are required, although it is expected that – as with Wales and Scotland – the region will proceed in principle with its existing regulations.

It comes after London and other counties in England moved to the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions, Tier 3, from today.

Theatres, pubs and restaurants have been closed with just nine days until Christmas, while people are banned from socialising with anyone not from their household or support bubble, except outside in groups of no more than six.

People will be allowed to interact with a wider circle of family and friends at Christmas, although other Tier 3 rules will remain in place.

More than 34 million people in England – around 60% of the country’s population – are now under Tier 3 rules, with a further 21.5 million people living under Tier 2 and 700,000 people living under Tier 1.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed the importance of “people taking care this Christmas”, but the relaxation of social distancing rules across the UK is expected to go ahead despite warnings about the possible impact it would have on controlling the virus.

New restrictions

Other countries have also moved to introduce new restrictions this week, as Europe battles a resurgence of the virus during the continent’s second wave.

Germany entered new restrictions today with the closure of schools and non-essential shops. It came as Europe’s largest economy reported a record number of new deaths from Covid-19.

A total of 952 people died in the previous 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre.

The country also reported 27,728 new coronavirus cases in the last day, a figure close to the daily record of nearly 30,000 infections reported last Friday.

Germany coped relatively well with the first wave in the spring but has been unable to stop the spread of a resurgent virus in recent months.

The latest restrictions will apply until at least 10 January, with companies being urged to allow employees to work from home or to offer extended company holidays.

Social contacts will have to remain restricted over the Christmas period from 24-26 December, when meetings will only be possible between close family members.

New Year’s Eve festivities will also be curtailed, with the sale of fireworks and gatherings banned.

In the Netherlands, a new five-week lockdown also came into effect this week, following an announcement by Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday.

All shops in except essential outlets like supermarkets, food stores and pharmacists shut yesterday until 19 January, while schools will close from today.

People are being advised to stay at home and can have a maximum of two guests a day, except for Christmas Day when they may have three.

Museums, zoos, cinemas and gyms must also close, but cannabis “coffeeshops” and restaurants can both stay open for takeaway service.

Curfews and lockdowns

In France, where bars, restaurants and cultural venues have been closed since the end of October, a curfew now runs from 8.00pm. to 6.00am.

The curfew will be lifted on 24 December, when families are invited to celebrate Christmas, but no more than six adults per household are allowed around a table.

The French government lifted a six-week-long lockdown yesterday, but the curfew remains in place as the number of infections continues to rise.

Museums, theatres and cinemas, which had been hoping to try to recoup some of their recent losses over Christmas, are set to remain closed for another three weeks, as will football stadiums.

Travel between different regions of the country, however, is permitted.

Belgium and Luxembourg have also taken tough stances, introducing curfews and asking citizens to limit Christmas dinners to one guest per household, or two for people who are living alone.

Italy has effectively banned travel between regions from 21 December to 6 January, with tighter controls for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on local travel. A curfew will also be in force across the country.

And in Spain, one of the first European countries to suffer a second wave of Covid-19 infections, there is a limit on the size of indoor gatherings and restrictions on travel.

The number of new infections in the country has risen to more than 10,000 a day, up from roughly 9,000 a day at the beginning of December.

‘Further resurgence’

It comes as the World Health Organisation in Europe today warned of a “further resurgence” of Covid-19 in early 2021.

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The UN health organisation said in a statement that while some “fragile progress” had been made in recent months, the transmission of the virus across Europe was still “widespread and intense”.

“There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it,” WHO Europe said.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen also said that the EU’s 27 member states will aim to start Covid-19 vaccinations on “the same day” in a sign of unity.

“To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70 percent of the population vaccinated,” she said in a statement to the European Parliament.

“This is a huge task, a big task. So let’s start as soon as possible with the vaccination together, as 27, with a start at the same day.”

The EMA, which regulates the release of medicines in the EU, is bringing forward to next Monday a special meeting originally planned a week later to discuss conditional approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2020

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