Europe welcomes Christmas amid pandemic, tighter restrictions

Madrid Desk, Dec 23 (EFE).- Christmas celebrations across Europe kicked off on Friday amid a new wave of coronavirus cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Spain has reintroduced mandatory face masks outdoors from Friday as the country reported a record level of infections since the start of the pandemic.

In Madrid, just a few hours before Christmas Eve, vaccination continued at a high pace with hundreds going to receive their shots at vaccination centers across the city.

Health authorities reported on Thursday 72,912 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, with a seven-day incidence rate of 911 cases per 100,000 people.

The reintroduction of face coverings outdoors, a measure that was dropped six months ago, and the acceleration of the booster vaccination campaign, are the measures that the Spanish government has taken to curb the sixth wave of coronavirus infections currently affecting the country.

While the central government has not imposed further measures, regional governments have the option to toughen restrictions. Catalonia was one of the first to reintroduce a night time curfew —with the subsequent closure of nightlife venues— and limit gatherings capacity to ten people.

Italy is also experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases as well as an increase in intensive care patients as the occupancy of intensive patients across Italian hospitals reached 10.7% this week.

The government has reintroduced mandatory face coverings outdoors and banned street parties until January 31 as it hit a record in daily cases on Thursday, along with the United Kingdom and France.

Meanwhile in Belgium, 47% of all coronavirus cases are of the Omicron variant and this figure is expected to exceed 50% over the weekend, the research institute Sciensano reported Friday.

The Belgian government announced new measures to come into effect after Christmas, on Sunday, including the closure of indoor venues such as cinemas, theaters and sporting venues. Public access to stadiums, concerts and events will also be banned.

Despite studies having shown the Omicron variant has a 70% lower hospitalization risk, scientists are concerned about the amount of cases. EFE


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