(Update 1: Re-casts with European angle, adds detail throughout, re-ledes, alters headline/guide)
Copenhagen, Dec 30 (EFE).- The majority of European nations are ringing out the year with soaring Covid-19 cases driven by the contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, prompting governments across the board to tighten restrictions and cancel New Year celebrations.
With the exception of Romania, which weathered a harsh Covid-19 wave in the fall, infection rates across Europe are high or extremely high according to the European Center for Disease Control.
Eighteen of the 30 countries in the European Economic Area have a two-week incidence rate above 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest on the ECDC index.
The latest ECDC risk map paints an accurate picture of a continent where a host of countries including Spain, France, Portugal and Denmark have posted their highest daily surges in Covid-19 infections although the high rate of vaccination and Omicron’s apparent mildness compared to previous variants, has kept hospital and death rates stable.
FACE MASKS, COVID PASSPORTS
However, Omicron’s high transmissibility has prompted European governments to revive Covid measures such as boosting restrictions, enforcing Covid-19 health passes and cancelling social events such as New Year celebrations.
Germany has limited social gatherings to 10 people — two for the unvaccinated — and Spain, which reported more than 100,000 cases in one day for the first time on Wednesday, has recommended regional authorities reduce stadium capacity to 75% and indoor seating spaces in restaurants and bars to 50%.
In France, which this week broke the European record with over 200,000 cases in one day, the government has announced it would fine companies 1,000 per employee should they fail to enforce remote working three days per week. French lawmakers are also studying banning the unvaccinated from entering museums, restaurants and bars.
REDUCTION IN MANDATORY ISOLATION
With the Omicron-driven wave already causing labor shortages, Italy, which reported an 80.7% uptick in Covid-19 cases over Christmas, will from 10 January no longer require fully vaccinated residents or those with the booster to isolate if they come into contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus.
Both Spain and the UK have reduced the isolation period from 10 to seven days.
Europe and the United States are leading a global surge in Covid-19 cases as Omicron takes hold.
A record 1.35 million Covid-19 infections were registered worldwide in the past 24 hours, 40% higher than the previous record, according to provisional figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday.
The sharp increase appears to be linked to the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, which is considerably more contagious than the Delta strain, although the WHO said Wednesday that it is the combination of the two that is causing the current “tsunami of cases.”EFE