Germans will be 'vaccinated, cured or dead' in a few months

Germans will be ‘vaccinated, cured or dead’ in a few months, health minister warns as country mulls compulsory jabs and Austria wakes up to life in lockdown amid Europe’s Covid crisis

  • Austria under nationwide lockdown with 8.9 million people unable to leave homes unless for specific reasons
  • Nearly 40,000 protesters descended on Belgium’s capital Brussels in a revolt against anti-Covid measures  
  • France is also facing worrying number of cases, with fifth-wave Covid infections rising at an alarming rates
  • The Netherlands entered a partial lockdown on Saturday, sparking a furious backlash against the government 
  • Austria on Friday reimposed a full winter lockdown and neighbouring Germany warned it may soon follow suit

Germans will be ‘vaccinated, cured or dead’ from Covid-19 in just a few months, the country’s health minister Jens Spahn warned today as he urged more citizens to get jabbed to protect themselves against the Delta variant. 

The dire warning comes as Germany is racing to contain a record rise in coronavirus infections, with the country reporting 49,206 cases on Sunday – the highest number of new coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.    

‘Probably by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said, pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured or dead,’ Shahn said, blaming the contagious Delta variant. ‘That is why we so urgently recommend vaccination.’

The German health minister’s warning comes as Austrians woke up to a nationwide lockdown – a move which sparked fierce backlash as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Vienna at the weekend to protest against the measures. 

Austrians were not alone in their demonstrations as violent protests broke out across Europe at the weekend in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Ireland over anti-Covid measures aimed at stemming spiralling cases. 

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte today slammed three nights of riots in several cities across the country as ‘pure violence’ by ‘idiots’ and vowed to prosecute those responsible.

Meanwhile, in Germany, politicians and health ministers are now debating whether to follow Austria’s example in making vaccinations compulsory, with some admitting that the move is ‘unavoidable’ amid a rise in infections.

GERMANY: Traders dismantle figures from their stall at the closed Christmas market in Dresden, Germany, on Monday

AUSTRIA: The streets in Vienna are empty on Monday morning at the beginning of a nationwide lockdown

AUSTRIA: Austrians woke up on Monday morning to a nationwide lockdown with shops, restaurants and festive markets shut amid a fourth wave of the pandemic which is crippling the country’s hospitals and tripling the death rate 

AUSTRIA: The nationwide lockdown – which had initially applied to the unvaccinated – stops Austria’s 8.9 million people from leaving their homes unless for specific reasons such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising. The streets were empty on Monday

AUSTRIA: Police officers control the occupants of a vehicle at a check point at the German-Austrian border on Monday

Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic once again, with the World Health Organisation warning that the Continent was the only region in the world where deaths had increased as Covid-related fatalities spiked by five per cent just last week

In neighbouring Germany, the fourth wave is overwhelming hospitals, with health chiefs warning that the situation is ‘extremely critical’ in intensive care units across the country. 

‘We have a very, very difficult situation in many hospitals,’ Spahn said. 

Despite widespread access to free coronavirus vaccines, just 68 per cent of the German population is fully vaccinated, a level experts say is too low to keep the pandemic under control. 

Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic once again, with the World Health Organisation warning that the Continent was the only region in the world where deaths had increased as Covid-related fatalities spiked by five per cent just last week. 

Anger is mounting across Europe over the anti-Covid measures, which has seen thousands of people demonstrate in Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland, Austria and North Macedonia on Saturday, a day after Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in Rotterdam.  

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday slammed three nights of unrest over anti-Covid measures as ‘pure violence’ by ‘idiots’ and vowed to prosecute those responsible.

The premier said riots in several cities around the country since Friday, which saw youths throw fireworks at police and vandalise buildings, ‘is pure violence under the guise of protest. 

He added: ‘I will always fight for the right to demonstrate in this country. That is part of our democracy, of our rule of law, but what I will never accept is that idiots use sheer violence against the people who work for you and me every day… to keep this country safe under the guise of: We are dissatisfied.’    

Last night saw 35,000 people descend on the Belgian capital Brussels to protest against new measures banning the unvaccinated from entering restaurants and bars. 

The frustration is extending to as far as the Caribbean after France’s island Guadeloupe saw a week of violent protests following an announcement that coronavirus jabs would be mandatory for all healthcare workers. 

In response, France has sent elite police and counter-terrorism officers to the French territory to help quell the unrest which saw clashes and looting. 

It comes after the French government warned that the fifth wave of coronavirus infections are rising at ‘lightning speed’, with new daily Covid cases close to doubling over the past week. 

THE NETHERLANDS: A worker clears glass from a destroyed bus shelter in Groningen on Monday after groups of people vandalised and set off fireworks during protests. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte today slammed three nights of riots in several cities across the country as ‘pure violence’ by ‘idiots’ and vowed to prosecute those responsible

BELGIUM: Demonstrators gather around Nord Train Station to protest against mandatory Covid-19 vaccine, in Brussels on Sunday

AUSTRIA: Protesters carrying a banner reading ‘Control the border. Not your people’ at the anti-lockdown demonstration held by the far-right Freedom Party in Vienna on Saturday

In Germany, a relatively low vaccination rate – hovering under 70 per cent – has left the country vulnerable to the virus. 

Now, the country’s ministers and health chiefs are questioning whether compulsory vaccination is the answer to the worsening situation. 

The President of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said he sees mandatory vaccination as a ‘last resort’ and said Germany must think about compulsory vaccination. 

He told ZDF newspaper: ‘The last resort, which is now being discussed again and again, is what is known as compulsory vaccination. And I’m with the World Health Organisation that we all don’t want that. 

‘There is really no one who would like to have a mandatory vaccination. But if you have tried everything else, then the World Health Organisation also says that you have to think about compulsory vaccination.’

Meanwhile, Germany’s federal tourism commissioner Thomas Bareiß said the situation makes it clear that compulsory vaccination is ‘unavoidable’. 

Bareiß told DPA news agency: ‘In retrospect, it was wrong not to see that right from the start. The hope at that time is understandable, but it was not realistic.’

His calls were echoed by the Prime Minister of Bavaria, where Covid cases have surged, who said ‘in the end we will not be able to avoid compulsory vaccination’. 

The Health Minister of Bavaria, Klaus Holetschek, also said that while he had been an opponent of mandatory vaccinations, he now sees it as the only way to stop further restrictions and the spread of Covid. 

He told Deutschlandfunk: ‘I believe that we can actually only get out of this endless loop if this mandatory vaccination is introduced.’ 

But others are not so sure, with the Prime Minister of Saarland, Tobias Hans, warning that compulsory vaccinations would divide society and spark protests, as Austria has seen in recent days. 

Hans told Zeit Online: ‘The compulsory vaccination is not the debate that we need now,’ adding that not enough has been done ‘to really convince them that vaccination is the right way to go’.    

Germany last week announced tougher coronavirus curbs to contain the worth wave, which has killed almost 100,000 people so far in the country, including 62 over the past 24 hours.    

In regions with high hospitalisation rates, the unvaccinated will be barred from public spaces like cinemas, gyms and indoor dining.

Employees are asked to return to working from home whenever possible, while anyone going into the workplace has to prove they are vaccinated, recovered or have recently tested negative – a system known as ‘3G’.

The same rule applies on public transport in those areas.

Several of Germany’s hardest hit regions, including Bavaria and Saxony, have gone even further by cancelling large events such as Christmas markets and effectively barring the unvaccinated from non-essential public life.

All vaccinated adults have also been urged to get a booster shot to combat waning vaccine efficacy after six months.    

GERMANY: The fourth wave is overwhelming hospitals in Germany, with health chiefs warning that the situation is ‘extremely critical’ in intensive care units across the country

AUSTRIA: The streets of Vienna were largely empty on Monday after the country entered a nationwide lockdown

AUSTRIA: A man walks with his dog in Salzburg on Monday along an empty street during the nation’s lockdown

Across the border in Austria, the streets were largely empty on Monday morning after the country entered a nationwide lockdown. 

The nationwide lockdown – which had initially applied to the unvaccinated – stops 8.9 million people from leaving their homes unless for specific reasons such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising. 

The strict measures, which are set to last for 10 days but could extend to 20, comes as average daily deaths in Austria have tripled in recent weeks and some hospitals have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity.  

Austria’s decision to enter a lockdown punctures earlier promises that tough virus restrictions would be a thing of the past. Over the summer, then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz had declared the pandemic ‘over’.

But plateauing inoculation rates, record case numbers and a spiralling death toll have forced the government to walk back such bold claims.   

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologised to all vaccinated people on Friday as he announced the measures, saying it wasn’t fair that they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions. Earlier, Austria had tried out a lockdown just for unvaccinated people but it did not slow infections enough. 

Chancellor Schallenberg also announced last week that the country will introduce a vaccine mandate as of February 1. The details of how the mandate will work aren’t yet clear, but the government has said that people who do not adhere to the mandate will face fines.

The vow to make Covid jabs mandatory led the head of one of Austria’s main opposition parties, Herbert Kickl, to warn the country is ‘now a dictatorship’, while branding the move ‘unconstitutional’ and calling on the country’s top court to intervene.    

After taking office in October, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg criticised Austria’s ‘shamefully low’ vaccine rate – which is at 66 percent – and banned the un-jabbed from public spaces.

When that proved ineffective at squelching the latest round of infections, he announced a nationwide lockdown of 20 days, with an evaluation after 10 days.

Schools will remain open, although parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible. Working remotely is also recommended.

Political analyst Thomas Hofer blamed Scahllenberg for maintaining ‘the fiction’ of a successfully contained pandemic for too long.

‘The government didn’t take the warnings of a next wave seriously,’ he said. ‘The chaos is evident.’   

BELGIUM: Tens of thousands of people in Belgium took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the return of strict lockdown rules aimed at curbing a rise in Covid infections 

GUADELOUPE: The frustration is extending to as far as the Caribbean after France’s island Guadeloupe saw a week of violent protests following an announcement that coronavirus jabs would be mandatory for all healthcare worker. Pictured: The destruction left by the protests on Sunday

Meanwhile, Slovakia on Monday introduced restrictions for people unvaccinated against Covid-19, the health ministry said, as the central European country battles one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates.

Unvaccinated people are not allowed to enter stores other than those considered essential, such as grocery stores, drugstores or pharmacies – even with a negative coronavirus test.

‘We have resorted to a vigorous lockdown of the unvaccinated, because we need to protect them,’ Prime Minister Eduard Heger said earlier on public broadcaster RTVS.

Heger also said that he would propose to the government mandatory vaccination for senior citizens.

Slovakia has the world’s fourth-highest infection rate at 917 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last seven days, according to an AFP calculation, after Slovenia, Austria and the neighbouring Czech Republic.

‘The high rate is due to many factors, the most important of which is that we have very few people vaccinated, ‘ Doctors Trade Union Association chairman Peter Visolajsky told AFP on Monday.

‘The adopted restrictions are still very weak, and they are not as effective as in the case of the previous variant of the coronavirus,’ Visolajsky said.

The expert said that better enforcement of the existing restrictions and ‘a more intensive vaccination could reduce the number of infections’.

‘Compulsory vaccination would be an important step in Slovakia but it must be medically justified,’ he added. 

Last night, nearly 40,000 took to the streets of Brussels to protest against the return of strict anti-Covid measures banning the unvaccinated from entering restaurants and bars. 

Some protesters were seen throwing projectiles at riot police and in response, officers fired water cannon and tear gas at the group. Police have made some arrests, but it is not immediately clear how many.

‘Unnecessary’ actions taken to contain Covid are causing democracies to ‘backslide’, report says

Democracy is deteriorating across the world, with countries including the US taking undemocratic and ‘unnecessary’ actions to contain the coronavirus pandemic, a report has warned.

‘Many democratic governments are backsliding,’ the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA, said. 

The 34-nation organization added that as of August 2021, 64 per cent of countries have taken an action to curb the pandemic that it considers ‘disproportionate, unnecessary or illegal.’ 

Among the countries added to the annual list of ‘backsliding’ democracies for the first time is the US, which has undergone a ‘visible deterioration’ since 2019. 

The report said the US was among countries which has imposed ‘measures that amount to democratic violations’, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic has ‘accelerated and magnified’ some of the negative trends.   

People march as they protest against New York City’s coronavirus vaccine mandate that went into effect for public school employees on October 4

The report pointed to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oban’s right to rule by decree without time limit to manage the pandemic and the introduction of prison sentences of up to five years for spreading after the parliament passed a bill. Pictured: A man protests against Orban’s Covid-19 politcies on November 30, 2020

The Stockholm-based body added that the situation is also getting worse in countries that are not democratic. Autocratic regimes have become ‘even more brazen in their repression,’ free speech has been restricted and the rule of law has been weakened, it said.

In its flagship report on the state of democracy, International IDEA said the number of backsliding democracies has doubled in the past decade, and mentioned in particular the U.S., Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. 

Alexander Hudson, a co-author of the report, said: ‘The United States is a high-performing democracy, and even improved its performance in indicators of impartial administration (corruption and predictable enforcement) in 2020.

‘However, the declines in civil liberties and checks on government indicate that there are serious problems with the fundamentals of democracy.’  

The report said that ‘the two years since our last report have not been good for democracy,’ and the achievement reached when democracy became the predominant form of governance ‘now hangs in the balance like never before.’

‘Overall, the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction in 2020 outnumbered those going in a democratic direction,’ the report said, adding that in the past two years, the world has lost at least four democracies, ‘either through flawed elections or military coups.’

In Europe, the pandemic ‘has placed a strain on democracy’ and some countries where democratic principles were already under threat, it provided an excuse for governments to weaken democracy further. 

The report pointed to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oban’s right to rule by decree without time limit to manage the pandemic and the introduction of prison sentences of up to five years for spreading after the parliament passed a bill.  

Europe’s non-democratic governments – it identified Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Turkey – have intensified their already very repressive practices, International IDEA said.

America First supporters and anti vaccination protesters are gathered in front of the Pfizer Headquarters to protest vaccination mandates in NYC on November 13

People take part in a protest against COVID-19 vaccines in Gdansk, northern Poland, in October

‘The pandemic broadened the pre-existing rift between high-performing democracies in Western Europe and weaker counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe,’ said Sam Van Der Staak, head of Program Regional Europe.

‘That divide will continue to challenge Europe´s unity, as it also faces greater outside pressure from non-democratic superpowers. But its increased democratic isolation also poses opportunities for greater integration and collaboration, as Europe is forced to consider the value of democracy as its core foundational force.’ 

‘This is the time for democracies to be bold, to innovate and revitalize themselves,’ International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said in a statement.   

In Asia, International IDEA said, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Myanmar have suffered from ‘a wave of growing authoritarianism.’ But democratic erosion has also been found in India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

‘China’s influence, coupled with its own deepening autocratization, also puts the legitimacy of the democratic model at risk,’ the report said.  

Two countries that were on the list last year – Ukraine and North Macedonia – were removed this year after their situations improved.

Two others, Mali and Serbia, left the list because they are no longer considered democracies.

While Myanmar moved from a democracy to an authoritarian regime, Afghanistan and Mali entered this category from their previous label of hybrid governments.

In Africa, democracy declines ‘have undermined remarkable progress made across the continent over the past three decades.’ The pandemic has added pressure on governments to respond to concerns regarding governance, rights and social inequality, it said. It also noted military coups in Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan.

The report also noted that half the democracies in the Americas have suffered democratic erosion, with notable declines in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and the United States.

International IDEA bases its assessments on 50 years of democratic indicators in around 160 countries, assigning them to three categories: democracies (including those that are ‘backsliding’), ‘hybrid’ governments and authoritarian regimes. 

For 2021, according to the group’s provisional assessment, the world counts 98 democracies – the lowest number in many years – as well as 20 ‘hybrid’ governments including Russia, Morocco and Turkey, and 47 authoritarian regimes including China, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iran.

Adding backsliding democracies to the hybrid and authoritarian states, ‘we are talking about 70 percent of the population in the world,’ Casas-Zamora said.

‘That tells you that there is something fundamentally serious happening with the quality of democracy,’ he added. 

The report said the trend towards democratic erosion has ‘become more acute and worrying’ since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Some countries, particularly Hungary, India, the Philippines and the USA, have (imposed) measures that amount to democratic violations – that is, measures that were disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or unconnected to the nature of the emergency,’ the report said.

‘The pandemic has certainly accelerated and magnified some of the negative trends, particularly in places where democracy and the rule of law were ailing before the pandemic,’ Casas-Zamora said.

Video footage from Brussels shows a large group of protesters shouting at police as some light flares and throw them at the officers. One man can even be seen mooning at them.

The protests descended into chaos, with some of the protesters seen setting fires on the streets while others threw rocks through the windows of local businesses including a post office. Two police cars have also been damaged.   

Saturday night also saw similar demonstrations against virus restrictions take place in Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland, Austria and North Macedonia, a day after Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in Rotterdam.  

In Belgium, cases have been surging, with infections reaching 13,836 on Sunday. In response, the government has introduced restrictions including a ban on the unvaccinated from venues such as restaurants and bars, and an order to work from home at least four days a week. 

Police said 35,000 protesters marched from the North Station in Brussels on Sunday afternoon against a fresh round of Covid measures announced by the government on Wednesday.

The demonstration, called ‘Together for Freedom’, saw some protesters clash with riot police near the Belgian capital’s EU and government district. Many of the protesters caught up in the clash were wearing hoods and carried Flemish nationalist flags.

A total of 42 people were detained and two were arrested in the riots. Meanwhile, three police officers were injured and taken to hospital and one protester was hurt after a firework exploded in his hand. 

Protesters set fire to piles of wood in the middle of roads and threw bricks through the windows of buildings, including a local post office.  

Several police officers were injured after protesters threw bottles and fireworks at them. 

THE NETHERLANDS: A day after Rotterdam rioting that saw seven people injured, thousands more took to Amsterdam’s central Dam Square and The Hague (pictured above) on Saturday night, with seven arrests being made according to police

Putin tells Russia he had Covid booster jab 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday he had taken a third dose of a Covid vaccine, as the country struggled with a fresh wave of the virus.

‘I had it two hours ago,’ Putin said on state television channel Rossiya 24, assuring viewers that his booster injection of the Sputnik vaccine had been painless.

The authorities are struggling to convince people to get vaccinated against Covid, even as a fresh wave of the virus is killing record numbers every day.

Even though Russia has several vaccines that it has manufactured itself, only 36.7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tracks the data.

Putin, who said he opposes universal mandatory vaccination, has backed measures taken in some regions for certain people. For example, in June, authorities in Moscow said vaccination would be obligatory for anyone working in the service sector.

Russia recorded more than 9.3 million cases of Covid and just over 264,000 deaths, which makes it the worst-hit country in Europe.

The actual toll from the pandemic there was closer to 450,000 at the end of September, according to figures from the Rosstat statistics agency however, which works with a broader definition of Covid-linked deaths.

Last week, Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said ‘the alarm signals are all red’ as he imposed tough restrictions, ordering people to work at home for at least four days a week. 

Under new restrictions, all people in indoor venues such as cafes and restaurants will need to wear a mask unless seated and the rule will apply to those aged 10 or older. The previous age threshold was 12. 

Nightclubs may have to test their guests if they want to let them dance mask-free. People wanting to eat in a restaurant or go to the theatre already must present a COVID pass, showing vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery. 

Most Belgians will also have to work from home four days a week until mid-December, and for three days after that.

Belgium has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the European Union, behind only the Baltic and former Yugoslav nations and Austria, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

‘The alarm signals are all red,’ prime minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. ‘We had all hoped to have a winter without coronavirus, but Belgium is not an island.’ 

Niels Van Regenmortel, the intensive care units coordinator at the ZNA Stuivenberg hospital in Antwerp, said there was an increasing risk hospitals in Belgium will have to resort to triage as ICUs fill up amid soaring COVID-19 numbers, calling on the government to restrict night life. 

In Germany, there is a growing debate about whether to introduce a compulsory vaccine, with Mr Bareiß, the tourism commissioner of the federal government, saying the move is ‘unavoidable’. 

He said: ‘For me it is politically no longer justifiable that entire industries, retailers, restaurants, clubs, bars and the entire cinema, cultural and event scene live in a state of crisis prescribed by the state for 20 months and are faced with great existential fears, while others are concerned take the freedom not to vaccinate. 

‘So far, historical measures and sums of money have been able to save many companies. That doesn’t work in the long run.’

In Bavaria, there has been a ‘dramatic’ coronavirus resurgence. It prompted the Bavarian state capital of Munich to become the first major German city to cancel its Christmas market, which usually draws some three million visitors. 

The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder said he believes the country will ‘not be able to avoid’ compulsory vaccination. 

He told Berliner Zeitung: ‘I believe that in the end we will not be able to avoid compulsory vaccination. Otherwise it will be an endless loop with this coronavirus.’ 

The director of Frankfurt University Hospital said the situation in intensive care units in the state of Hesse is ‘critical’.

Jürgen Graf, who is also the head of the planning staff for the inpatient care of Covid patients in Hesse at the Ministry of Health, told Bild: ‘The situation is extremely critical. What we are currently doing is crisis management.’ 

He added: ‘This is not a problem for Covid patients, it affects everyone,’ explaining that inpatient care and the care of emergency patients are ‘impaired’ due to longer wait times. 

The warning comes as a hospital in Bavaria’s Freising last week made the unprecedented decision to transfer a Covid-19 patient to northern Italy because it ‘had no more capacity to receive them, and the surrounding hospitals were also full.’   

Almost one per cent of the new infections end up in the intensive care unit, Graf said. ‘Given the current number of infections, that would be 50 or more patients per week in addition to the approximately 250 patients treated there today,’ he added. ‘Then in a few weeks we will be well above last winter’s high.’ 

The fourth wave of infections has plunged Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a national emergency, Health Minister Jens Spahn said. He urged people to reduce their social contacts, warning that vaccinations alone would not reduce case numbers. 

Asked if Germany could rule out an Austrian-style full lockdown, Spahn said: ‘We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out.

‘We are in a national emergency,’ he told a news conference.  

Their comments come after the upper house of parliament on Friday approved new measures to control the outbreak proposed by the centre-left alliance that emerged after the September 26 national election.

The measures include requirements for people to prove they are vaccinated, recently recovered from Covid-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces or public transport.

Separately, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with the governors of Germany’s 16 states to introduce a new threshold linked to the number of hospital admissions of Covid-19 patients per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

The new three-tier system would require people to show evidence of a vaccination or previous infection to enter public buildings or businesses in states where hospitalisation rates go above 3 in 100,000 people, based on a seven-day average. At present, that will affect 9 of Germany’s 16 states.   

In France, the seven-day average of new cases reached 17,153 on Saturday, up from 9,458 a week earlier, according to the health authorities, an increase of 81 percent.

‘The fifth wave is starting at lightning speed,’ government spokesman Gabrial Attal said.

The latest seven-day increase is three times the average rise of cases recorded over the previous three weeks, indicating an exponential acceleration of infections.

For now the spike in infections has not led to a massive influx of Covid patients into hospitals, with the authorities attributing the limited number of intensive care patients to France’s high rate of vaccinations which appear highly effective against the most dangerous forms of Covid.

First German states cancel all Christmas markets over virus 

The German states of Bavaria and Saxony on Friday cancelled all their Christmas markets and unveiled drastic curbs on public life as the country scrambles to contain soaring coronavirus infections.

‘The situation is very, very serious and difficult,’ Markus Soeder, premier of the southern state of Bavaria, said as he also announced a shutdown of clubs, bars and night service at restaurants.

The eastern state of Saxony unveiled similar measures and went even further by closing all sporting and cultural venues, banning tourism, public consumption of alcohol and barring the unvaccinated from non-essential shops and hairdressers.

Saxony premier Michael Kretschmer – whose state has Germany’s lowest vaccination rate at just under 60 percent of the population – admitted that many of the restrictions would affect the vaccinated as well.

But he said tough action was needed to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and called for ‘solidarity’ from all citizens. ‘We need more ‘we’ and less ‘I’ in this pandemic,’ he told reporters.

Bavaria and Saxony are among the hardest hit regions in the ferocious fourth Covid wave sweeping Germany. 

Reporting by AFP 

On Saturday, hospitals reported a total of 7,974 Covid patients in their care, with 1,333 of them in intensive treatment. This compares to 6,500 and 1,000, respectively, a month earlier.

‘There is a very strong increase in infections, but we also know that in France we have a very large vaccination cover,’ he said. ‘We seem to be ahead of our neighbours concerning booster shots.’

France’s introduction of a health pass ahead of other countries in the summer was also helping to keep Covid in check, he said.

The health pass, required in French restaurants, cafes and many cultural venues, certifies that a person is fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from Covid, or has tested negative for the virus.

The government continues to stand by its choice to ‘bring the weight of restrictions to bear on non-vaccinated people rather than vaccinated people’, Attal said.

On Saturday night, Europe descended into a second night of violent carnage amid the return of strict lockdown rules aimed at curbing rising rates of Covid infection.

Thousands of people took to Amsterdam’s central Dam Square and the Hague on Saturday, a day after the ‘orgy of violence’ during the Rotterdam riots that saw seven people injured. Police said seven arrests were made on Sunday after youths set streets ablaze and shot fireworks at officers. 

Video footage from the Hague showed motorists sounding their horns in support as a trio of small explosions could be clearly seen on the main road in the background. Elsewhere, protesters were pictured ripping down street signs in chaotic scenes.

Anti-riot police were forced to clear the wreckage of smouldering scooters and burnt-out bicycles that were torched by the anti-vax mob and left to block roads in one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the country since Covid restrictions were first implemented. 

THE NETHERLANDS: Rioters set police vehicles ablaze as anti-lockdown protests turned to riots in Coolsingel street, Rotterdam, on Friday evening

DENMARK: Demonstrators in balaclavas hold torches and lit flares as they march during a ‘Men in Black’ protest against new government restrictions in Copenhagen

AUSTRIA: Demonstrators pass the State Opera during a rally held by Austria’s far-right Freedom Party in Vienna on Saturday

Three people treated in hospital and inquiry launched after Dutch police fired warning shots during Rotterdam riots 

Three people were being treated in hospital in Rotterdam on Saturday after they were seriously injured when Dutch police fired shots during a violent protest against COVID-19 measures, authorities said.

Crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars, set off fireworks and threw rocks at police during the protests on Friday evening. Police responded with warning shots and water canons.

Rotterdam police posted on Twitter on Saturday that 51 people had been arrested, half of whom were under 18.

‘Three rioters were wounded when they were hit by bullets, they remain in hospital,’ police added, in an update after earlier reporting two wounded.

Authorities are investigating the shootings including whether the wounded people where hit by police bullets, they added.

The city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, said the protest had turned into ‘an orgy of violence.’

‘Police were forced to draw their weapons and even fire direct shots,’ he told a news conference early on Saturday. 

Dutch Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus said in a statement the ‘extreme violence’ against police and firefighters in Rotterdam was ‘repulsive.’

‘The right to protest is very important in our society but what we saw last night was simply criminal behaviour,’ Grapperhaus said.

Protesters had gathered to voice opposition to government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a ‘corona pass,’ showing they have been vaccinated or have already recovered from an infection.

The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated, but have proof of a negative test.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday slammed three nights of unrest over anti-Covid measures as ‘pure violence’ by ‘idiots’ and vowed to prosecute those responsible.

Riots in several cities around the country since Friday ‘is pure violence under the guise of protest,’ the premier said. He added he would always defend the right to protest, but ‘I will never accept that idiots use pure violence,’ he told Dutch media.

Meanwhile, similar demonstrations against virus restrictions also took place in Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland, Austria and North Macedonia on Saturday, a day after Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in Rotterdam.

It comes as violence broke out in Vienna on Saturday as 10,000 protesters – many from far-right groups – took to the streets to demonstrate against new Covid-19 restrictions and mandatory vaccinations. 

Police were pictured arresting two protesters. A spokesman said there had been fewer than 10 arrests, for breaches of coronavirus restrictions and the ban on Nazi symbols. Some protesters mockingly wore doctor’s scrubs, while others wore the yellow stars as badges in reference to Nazi Germany’s policy of forcing Jews to wear the badge as identification. 

Chanting ‘resistance!’, waving Austrian flags and blowing whistles, the crowd swelled to more than 30,000. Many held signs mocking government leaders including Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.  

Protesters rallied against coronavirus restrictions and mandatory COVID-19 passes needed in many European countries to enter restaurants, Christmas markets or sports events, as well as mandatory vaccinations. 

The Austrian protest, which was promoted by the far-right opposition Freedom Party, became violent and five police officers were injured – a development which Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer slammed as ‘unacceptable’. 

Nehammer told a press conference on Sunday morning: ‘If at a meeting that is organised and promoted by a parliamentary party, where police officers are attacked and Nazi crimes are played down by wearing the Jewish star, that is unacceptable.’  

The protesters had worn the yellow Jewish star as badges, with the words ‘unvaccinated’ stitched on, as they compared the lockdown and mandatory vaccination measures with the atrocities of the Nazi era. 

Nehammer said: ‘This is not only completely tasteless, it plays down the crimes of the National Socialists and offends the millions of victims of the Nazi dictatorship and their families.’ 

The interior minister said some of the protesters were from right-wing extremist groups, with some setting fire to a police car and confessing that they ‘wanted to burn a police officer’. 

‘This is an extent of radicalisation that is by no means acceptable,’ Nehammer said, adding that the police officers ‘professionally ensured security in a difficult mission’.      

AUSTRIA: Anti-lockdown protesters hold lit torches and banners reading: ‘Hands off our children’ as they continue their protests against Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday, November 20

ROMANIA: Activists armed with banners march during a protest against vaccinations, the introduction of the controversial health pass, and Covid lockdown-style measures in Bucharest, Romania on Sunday November 7

CROATIA: Demonstrators march in the centre of Zagreb to protest against Covid-19 measures such as obligatory certificates for public sector on Saturday

In Italy, 3,000 turned out in the capital’s Circus Maximus, a field where in ancient times Romans staged popular entertainment, on Saturday to protest against ‘Green Pass’ certificates required at workplaces, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, sports venues and gyms, as well as for long-distance train, bus or ferry travel within Italy.

In Northern Ireland, several hundred people opposed to vaccine passports protested outside the city hall in Belfast, where the city’s Christmas market opened Saturday – a market where proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was required.

The Northern Ireland government voted last week to introduce vaccine certificates for admission to nightclubs, bars and restaurants starting Dec. 13. 

‘People like us never give up,’ read one banner, in the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag. Virtually no one at the Rome protest wore a protective mask.

Switzerland saw 2,000 people protest an upcoming referendum on whether to approve the government’s COVID-19 restrictions law, claiming it was discriminatory, public broadcaster SRF reported. 

In Croatia, thousands gathered at in the capital Zagreb, carrying Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols, along with banners against vaccination and what they describe as restrictions of people’s freedoms.  

And in Denmark, more than one thousand gathered outside the Danish parliament in Copenhagen to push back against the reintroduction of the national health pass. 

North Macedonia also saw hundreds of anti-vaccination protesters march in downtown Skopje on Saturday evening against the country’s health authority’s recommendation of mandatory vaccinations.

Demonstrations against virus measures are also expected in other European countries – the latest in rising anger at the re-introduction of restrictions amid soaring cases on the continent

This comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was ‘very worried’ about the spread of Covid-19 within Europe as the continent battles a fresh wave of infections.  

ITALY: Demonstrators listen to speakers and show their mobile phones during a protest against restrictions for the unvaccinated, at Rome Circus Maximus, on Saturday

NORTHERN IRELAND: Demonstrators take part in a protest against Covid certification in Belfast city centre. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 20, 2021

Regional director Dr Hans Kluge told the BBC that some 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken.  

Elite troops sent in to police France’s overseas territories amid looting and arson over Covid curfew

France sent dozens of elite police and counter-terrorism officers to its Caribbean island of Guadeloupe Saturday following looting and arson overnight in defiance of an overnight curfew.

The island’s prefect on Friday introduced the night-time stay-at-home order after protests against the coronavirus vaccine pass spiralled into violence the previous night.

But the measure did little to quell the rioting. ‘The night was very turbulent,’ a police source said.

The security forces recorded ‘some 20 incidents of looting or attempted robbery’ in the seaside towns of Pointe-a-Pitre and Le Gosier, including at a jewellery shop, a bank, a betting shop and a shopping centre.

In the town of Saint-Francois to the east, ‘gendarmes coming out of the station were threatened by blazing projectiles’.

A second source within the gendarmerie said an armoury had been looted.

The first source said ‘firearms were used against police forces in four different areas’ across the island, and one member was slightly wounded after a stone hit him in the face.

In the area of Le Petit-Bourg to the west, firemen had to put out fires in two mobile phone stores, which had also been plundered.

The interior ministry said 31 people had been arrested.

France late Saturday said it was sending around 50 personnel from both its RAID elite police force and its GIGN counter-terrorism unit to Guadeloupe.

The doctors’ union in Guadeloupe warned against further trouble while the health system was so ‘fragile’.

They criticised ‘individuals who may have prevented patients from getting access to treatment, or medical staff from reaching their place of practice’.

While most people in mainland France have now received two vaccination doses, rates in its overseas territories have lagged behind.

By November 16, some 46 percent of adults in Guadeloupe had received at least one jab of a vaccine against Covid.

Five police officers were injured during rioting at the Hague, with one taken to hospital suffering concussion and two suffering hearing damage from loud fireworks,.

A rock thrown by rioters also smashed the window of a passing ambulance carrying a patient, the city’s police force said.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, two football matches in the Eredivise, the top professional league, were briefly halted after fans – banned from matches under a partial lockdown in force in the Netherlands for a week – broke into stadiums in the towns of Alkmaar and Almelo.

Earlier Saturday, two protests against COVID-19 measures went off peacefully in Amsterdam and the southern city of Breda.

Police said in a tweet that seven people were arrested in The Hague and five officers were injured. One needed treatment in a hospital. Local media reported that rioters threw bicycles, wooden pallets and motorized scooters on one of the fires.

The chaos in The Hague was on a smaller scale than the pitched battles on the streets of Rotterdam on Friday night, when police said that three rioters were hit by bullets and investigations were underway to establish if they were shot by police. 

Officers in Rotterdam arrested 51 people, about half of them minors, police said Saturday afternoon. One police officer was hospitalized with a leg injury sustained in the rioting, another was treated by ambulance staff and ‘countless’ others suffered minor injuries.

Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning that ‘on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves’ as rioters rampaged through the port city’s central shopping district, setting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at officers.

‘They shot at protesters, people were injured,’ Aboutaleb said. He did not have details on the injuries. Police also fired warning shots. 

Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus condemned the events. ‘The riots and extreme violence against police officers, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are disgusting to see,’ he said in a statement.

‘Protesting is a great right in our society, but what we saw last night is simply criminal behavior. It has nothing to do with demonstrating,’ he added.  

An independent investigation into the shootings by police was opened, as is the case whenever Dutch police use their weapons. 

As the march kicked off on Vienna’s Heldenplatz, thousands of protesters gathered on the massive square. About 1,300 police officers were on duty. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters masks were required, but most did not wear them.

Chanting ‘resistance!’ and blowing whistles, protesters began to move slowly down the city’s inner ring road. Many waved Austrian flags and carried signs mocking government leaders like Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.

Some wore doctor’s scrubs; others donned tinfoil hats. Most of the signs focused on the newly announced vaccine mandate: ‘My Body, My Choice,’ read one. ‘We’re Standing Up for Our Kids!’ said another. 

By mid-afternoon the crowds had swelled to roughly 35,000 people, according to the police, and were marching down Vienna’s inner ring road before heading back towards the Hofburg. 

Police were pictured arresting two protesters. A spokesman said there had been fewer than 10 arrests, for breaches of coronavirus restrictions and the ban on Nazi symbols. 

Meanwhile, a few hundred protesters gathered in Amsterdam on Saturday and a similar number marched through the southern city of Breda over the latest Covid-19 measures. 

Riots also erupted in the central ‘Bible Belt’ town of Urk and cities in southern Limburg province, while angry fans disrupted two football matches being played behind closed doors because of coronavirus rules, Dutch media said. 

It comes after violent riots on Friday night in which 51 were arrested in Rotterdam after thousands of anti-lockdown protesters gathered on one of the city’s main shopping streets. 

Dutch police fired water canons, ‘warning shots’ and bullets at protesters to disperse the crowd who had lit fires and set off fireworks. Police confirmed seven injuries, including officers, in the violence but did not say if live ammunition or rubber bullets were fired. 

The Netherlands re-imposed some lockdown measures last weekend for an initial three weeks in an effort to slow a resurgence of coronavirus contagion, but daily infections have remained at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic. 

The Dutch government has said it wants to introduce a law that would allow businesses to restrict the country’s coronavirus pass system to only people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 – that would exclude people who test negative.   

The violent scenes in Rotterdam mirrored much of the continent’s reaction to similar schemes announced by Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia – with Italy and Greece also reportedly considering moves to restrict the movements of unvaccinated people.  

THE NETHERLANDS: Riot police were forced to clear the wreckage of smouldering scooters and burnt-out bicycles (left) that were set ablaze by the anti-vax mob and left to block roads

CROATIA: A man burns a flag during a protest against vaccination and coronavirus measures in Zagreb, Saturday

Austria becomes first EU country to mandate jabs 

Austria on Friday became the first EU country to announce it would make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory and will next week impose a partial lockdown in the face of spiralling infections.

The lockdown, which comes into effect on Monday, constitutes the toughest restrictions introduced in Europe in recent weeks as Covid-19 cases surge continent-wide, fuelled by vaccine resistance.

Austrians will not be allowed to leave home except to go to work, shop for essentials and exercise. The restrictions will initially last 20 days with an evaluation after 10 days, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said. 

Vaccination against Covid-19 in the Alpine nation will be mandatory from February 1 next year, Schallenberg said. So far, the Vatican alone in Europe has imposed a vaccination mandate.

The World Health Organization continues to favour policies that ‘demonstrate the benefit and safety of vaccines for the greatest possible acceptance of vaccines, rather than imposed mandatory vaccination,’ spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva. 

Austria has already imposed movement restrictions on those not vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus, ordering them to stay at home since Monday, becoming the first EU country to do so.

But infections have continued to rise. On Friday, a new record of more than 15,800 new cases was recorded in the EU member of nearly nine million people.

Reporting by AFP  

Despite the violence a day earlier, around 300 protesters marched through the southern Dutch town of Breda near the Belgian border on Saturday carrying banners with slogans such as ‘No Lockdown’.

Organisers said they opposed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s plans to exclude the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants.

A group that had called an Amsterdam protest for Saturday, United We Stand Europe, said on Facebook it had cancelled the rally because ‘last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam’.

But several hundred flag-waving protesters still gathered in central Dam Square, watched over by police vans, according to Dutch media and images on social media.

Footage from the Rotterdam violence showed burnt out police cars and rioters throwing fireworks and rocks at police, while photos in Dutch media showed at least one police car ablaze and another with a bicycle smashed through the windshield.

Local news outlet NL Times reported that a journalist was attacked of the street, while local broadcaster Rijnmond said the reporter was beaten and his camera was destroyed. Local media also reported gangs of soccer hooligans were involved in the rioting. 

One eyewitness – a press photographer – told local media they saw shell casings ‘everywhere on the floor’. 

Cops also said it was ‘unclear how or by whom’ two people were shot during the chaos. Video from social media on Dutch broadcaster NOS appeared to show the person being hit in Rotterdam, but there was no explanation on what happened.  

Late on Friday night, police said downtown Rotterdam remained restive and there was still a heavy police presence on the streets. 

Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning that ‘on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves’ as rioters ran rampage through the port city’s central shopping district, setting fires and throwing rocks and fireworks at officers.

‘They shot at protesters, people were injured,’ Aboutaleb said, adding that several officers were injured in the violence.

THE NETHERLANDS: People march during a protest against the latest measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the cancellation of the event after violence marred protests in Rotterdam on Saturday

Police spokesperson Patricia Wessels confirmed that police fired shots, though it was not immediately clear what type of rounds were fired.

‘We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening,’ she said. ‘We know that at least two people were wounded, probably as a result of the warning shots, but we need to investigate the exact causes further.’ 

Police said that riot police later launched charges at the demonstrators, adding: ‘The water launcher has been deployed.’ 

The situation had largely calmed late on Friday but the smoking wreckage of a burned-out police car and dozens of smashed bicycles littered the scene, an AFP reporter said. 

A SAGE adviser has moved to reassure Britons the UK will not see a spike in Covid-19 cases like Austria and Germany – but warned Europe’s lockdown riots should act as a ‘warning’ and urged people to get their booster jabs.  

Professor John Edmund said today that opposition to stringent restrictions on the continent have demonstrated the importance of booster jabs, warning, ‘it is pretty clear immunity does wane’.    

‘What you see now in central Europe with these rapid increase in cases, you see the importance of vaccination,’ Mr Edmund told Sky. 

But Mr Edmund said the UK was unlikely to be hit by the Christmas chaos because the country ‘is in a slightly different position.’ 

He added: ‘Frankly here in the UK, we’ve had high rates of infection for many months now so we’re in a slightly different position to Austria and Germany and so on.

‘I don’t think things will quite happen in the same way here as they have done there. But it is a warning to us. I think it’s pretty clear that immunity does wane.

‘I’m sure you do still have some protection from the vaccine but it’s nowhere near as strong as shortly after you’ve been vaccinated. It’s very clear the booster doses do give a very clear boost to your immune system.’

Asked whether the Government should re-introduce control measures, Mr Edmund told Sky: ‘The plan B measures, we could’ve implemented them at any point. It’s a government decision whether to take that step.

‘They have to look at the potential effectiveness and measure that against the potential cost of some of those things.’

Riot police carrying shields and batons were directing groups of people away from the area. Officers on horseback and in police vans patrolled the streets.

Police also cordoned off several scenes to comb for evidence, with a human finger visible on the ground at one of them, the AFP correspondent said.

‘Most of the demonstrators are now gone. There only remain a few groups in a few places,’ police spokesman Jesse Brobbel told AFP. 

Dutch justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus said in a statement that the ‘extreme violence’ against police and fire fighters in Rotterdam was ‘repulsive’.

‘The right to protest is very important in our society but what we saw last night was simply criminal behaviour,’ Grapperhaus said.  

Dutch police said units from around the country were brought in to ‘restore order’ to Rotterdam.

‘Dozens of arrests have now been made, it is expected that more arrests will follow. Around seven people have been injured, including on the side of the police,’ a police statement said.  

At least one police car was set on fire during the protest, a police spokesman confirmed to AFP. The spokesperson could not confirm the number of people injured. 

Several electric scooters and other items were also torched, with several hundred protesters involved in the riots, images on Dutch media and social media showed. 

Local authorities issued an emergency order banning people from gathering in the area in a bid to prevent further violence, and the authorities also called on bystanders and people who recorded images of the riots to send the footage to police for further investigation.

Police tweeted that rioters started fires and threw fireworks during the rioting and authorities closed the city’s main railway station.  

The several hundred people had gathered to voice opposition to government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a ‘corona pass’ showing they have been vaccinated or already recovered from an infection.

The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated, but have proof of a negative test. 

‘This is a very serious situation which requires action with the highest priority,’ said the emergency order by the Rotterdam municipality. ‘It is therefore necessary to issue this emergency order so as to maintain public order and to protect the safety of persons.’  

NORTH MACEDONIA: People protest through downtown Skopje, North Macedonia, on Saturday, November 20, 2021

THE NETHERLANDS: A scooter set on fire during a protest against the 2G policy in Coolsingel, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 19 November 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered to protest against the tightened coronavirus measures

Covid-19 infections soar in the Czech Republic 

Coronavirus infection rates in the Czech Republic have hit a new record for the second time this week, the Health Ministry said.

It announced that the daily tally jumped to 22,936 on Friday, almost 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.

The country’s infection rate has risen to 929 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

In a worrying sign, 110 people died on Thursday, the ministry said, with the daily death toll surpassing 100 for the first time since April.

The government has approved new restrictions to tackle the surge, targeting the unvaccinated in an effort to increase a vaccination rate that is below the European Union average.

Starting on Monday, most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus tests in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar facilities or use hotels.

Only people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will remain eligible. Overall, the nation of 10.7 million has registered almost two million cases with 32,005 deaths.


Local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet. ‘The centre of our beautiful city has this evening transformed into a war zone,’ it said. ‘Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never, the solution.’ 

Like much of the rest of Europe, the Netherlands has seen Covid cases soar to record levels in recent days, with more than 21,000 new infections reported on Friday. 

The latest restrictions were announced on November 12, and sparked clashes between demonstrators and police outside the justice ministry in The Hague. 

The restrictions came into force the following day, shuttering bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets at 8:00 pm daily, while non-essential shops must shut at 6:00 pm.

People are limited to having four visitors at home and have been advised to work at home unless absolutely necessary. Public events have been scrapped while football matches must be played behind closed doors. 

Schools however remain open, and people are allowed to leave their homes without restrictions. The Dutch government has said it will review the situation on December 3.

It is considering excluding the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants, limiting admittance to people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the disease, but there was significant opposition to the plan during a debate in parliament this week. 

The Netherlands suffered its worst riots in four decades in January after a night-time Covid curfew, the country’s first since World War II, came into force. 

Earlier Friday, the government banned fireworks on Dec. 31 for the second straight year. The ban is intended ‘to prevent, as much as possible, extra strain on health care, law enforcement and first responders,’ the government said Friday. 

The riots in Rotterdam come after Austria said on Friday that it will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full Covid-19 lockdown, while neighbouring Germany warned it may follow suit, sending shivers through financial markets worried about the economic fallout. 

Restrictions have also been placed on the unvaccinated in Germany – where they have been banned from restaurants – as well as in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.    

Following the announcement, right-wing Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl posted a picture on Facebook with the inscription: ‘As of today Austria is a dictatorship.’ 

The party is planning a protest on Saturday, but Kickl cannot attend because he has tested positive for Covid-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days.

Europe has again become the epicentre of the pandemic, accounting for half of global cases and deaths, the WHO said. 

A fourth wave of infections has plunged Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a national emergency, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, warning that vaccinations alone will not cut case numbers. 

Asked if Germany could rule out an Austrian-style full lockdown, Spahn said: ‘We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out. ‘We are in a national emergency,’ he told a news conference.  

AUSTRIA: Police officers detain a man during a demonstration on Vienna’s Heldenplatz in which thousands of protesters gathered on the massive square. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters masks were required, but most did not wear them

EU issues advice on using Covid-19 pill for adults

The European Union’s drug regulator has issued advice on using Merck’s COVID-19 pill for adults and began a review of a rival tablet from Pfizer to help member states decide on quick adoption ahead of any formal EU-wide approval.

In two separate statements on Friday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) detailed efforts to advance use of the experimental but promising options, as infections and COVID-related deaths are rapidly rising in the region and forcing renewed lockdowns. 

Merck’s COVID-19 tablet, Lagevrio, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, should be given early and within five days of first symptoms to treat adults who do not need oxygen support and are at risk of their disease worsening.

It advised against treatment during pregnancy and for women who plan to or could get pregnant, while adding that breastfeeding must also be stopped around the time of using the pill, which is to be taken twice a day for five days.

Drugs in the same class as Merck’s Lagevrio have been linked to birth defects in animal studies. The drugmaker, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, has said animal testing shows its pill is safe, but the data have not been made public. 

EMA said it was studying available data on the Pfizer pill Paxlovid, days after the drugmaker sought U.S. approval, adding that a more comprehensive rolling review was expected to start ahead of any approval. It did not specify when that review would be.

The EMA last month began a rolling review of the Merck pill and expects to conclude that evaluation by the end of the year. 

Looming lockdowns weighed on a range of financial market sectors on Friday, pushing stocks and oil down and boosting the dollar.

‘We expect targeted measures (against COVID-19) across some countries mainly according to the health situation, but other factors, such as domestic political situations, will be relevant,’ Oxford Economics analysts said in a note.

‘And while it might take a while before a political consensus can be reached in other countries, it is clear that the tide has turned.’ 

As cases rise again, a number of European governments have started to reimpose limits on activity, ranging from Austria’s full lockdown to a partial lockdown in the Netherlands and restrictions on the unvaccinated in parts of Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Niels Van Regenmortel, the intensive care units coordinator at the ZNA Stuivenberg hospital in Antwerp, said there was an increasing risk hospitals in Belgium will have to resort to triage as ICUs fill up amid soaring COVID-19 numbers, calling on the government to restrict night life. 

Whether or not countries opt to lock down again depends on a wide range of factors, including vaccination rates, mask mandates and the extent to which booster shots are being made available.

Germany has said further measures will be decided based on when hospitalisation rates hit certain thresholds, while Friday saw its first states – Saxony and Bavaria – cancel all their Christmas markets.

The Bavarian state capital of Munich on Tuesday had become the first major German city to cancel its Christmas market for the second year in a row. Saxony’s cancellations means the famed Dresden Christmas market is also scrapped. 

Germany hosts some 2,500 Christmas markets each year, cherished by visitors who come to savour mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, and shop for seasonal trinkets among clusters of wooden chalets.

In pre-pandemic times, they drew about 160 million domestic and international visitors annually who brought in revenues of three to five billion euros ($3.4 billion to $5.6 billion), according to the BSM stallkeepers’ industry association.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has made it clear he thinks high levels of vaccinations should be enough to avoid future lockdowns.

Britain, with higher numbers of infections than most countries in Europe, is rolling out third shots – or boosters – to offset waning protection from the first two and help keep the economy open. 

While the new measures across Europe are not seen hitting the economy as much as the all-out lockdowns of last year, analysts say they could weigh on the recovery in the last quarter, especially if they hurt the retail and hospitality sectors over Christmas.

A full lockdown in Germany would be more serious, however.

‘With Germany… imposing new restrictions, any thoughts that the vaccines would offer a way to a more normal Christmas period appear to have gone up in smoke for now, in Europe at least,’ said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

‘Although there is a nagging fear this could ripple out across the region.’ The pressure on intensive care units in Germany has not yet reached its peak, Spahn said, urging people to reduce contacts to help break the wave. 

‘How Christmas will turn out, I dare not say. I can only say it’s up to us,’ he added.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday Germany will limit large parts of public life in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of COVID-19 patients to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness.

‘It’s clear from our experience in England and from what’s happening across Europe that while vaccines do a lot of the heavy lifting … other interventions are required to prevent case numbers rising,’ said Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick.

‘Less mask wearing, more mixing indoors due to colder weather and waning immunity are also contributing to the high case levels across Europe.’  

Sweden, meanwhile, has the lowest Covid infection rate in western Europe — after double-vaccinated nationals were told they don’t have to test for the virus even if they get symptoms.

The Scandinavian nation — which was subject to international scrutiny last year when it refused to lockdown — is currently recording 85.4 cases per million people, according to Oxford University research site Our World in Data.

By comparison, the rate is nearly 1,400 per million in Europe’s current Covid capital Austria, which today announced it is going back into a full lockdown from Monday.

Sweden’s infection rate is far lower than other Western European countries like the Netherlands (1,048.7), Britain (581), Germany (536), and France (201). 

And for the first time in the pandemic, Sweden is recording fewer cases per population size than its Scandinavian neighbours Denmark (655), Norway (351) and Finland (150).

But critics say Sweden has been left ‘in the dark’ over the true extent of its coronavirus wave because the double-vaccinated, equivalent to almost seven in ten people, are not being routinely swabbed.

Last week, Sweden broke ranks with its European neighbours once again and told Swedes they did not have to get tested if they were fully jabbed, even if they had symptoms. Covid swabbing rates plunged 35 per cent last week, compared to a month earlier. 

But this week the policy was reversed in response to rising cases on the continent. A fresh wave of Delta is rolling across the continent and putting pressure on hospitals once again, which has forced most in the EU to bring back some form of curbs.

Latest figures show Sweden is only carrying out 1.26 tests per 1,000 people, which is also the lowest number in western Europe.

The threat of fresh lockdowns comes as optimism grows about experimental drugs developed by Pfizer and Merck that cut the chance of hospitalisation and severe illness, more weapons in the world’s fight against the virus.

On Friday, the EU drug regulator said it was reviewing data on Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill to help member states decide on quick adoption ahead of any formal EU-wide approval. 

Slovakia has also seen a surge in infections, with 9,171 reported on Friday, its biggest daily tally since the pandemic began. The country of 5.5 million earlier in the week tightened restrictions on people who have not had COVID-19 shots.

With a seven-day incidence of 11,500 new cases per million inhabitants, the country has the worst reported epidemic situation in the world, according to Our World in Data statistics.

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