Omicron Storms Europe: New Variant Looms Over Winter Holidays

Written by | Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

European Union leaders failed to guarantee a coordinated approach to travel measures for the Christmas holiday season at their summit on Thursday (16 December), after several member states introduced unilateral measures. But they stressed boosters shots are “crucial” and “urgent” to curb the new wave of Covid-19 infections and the emergence of the more-transmissible Omicron variant. The new variant of the coronavirus, which has so far been reported in 89 countries, is spreading significantly faster than the Delta strain in countries with documented community transmission, with the number of cases doubling in 1.5 to 3 days, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The Omicron variant is five times more likely to cause reinfections, a study by Imperial College London study has found, though some experts say there are still not sufficient data to draw conclusions. There is “no evidence” that the Omicron coronavirus variant is milder than Delta, British researchers have concluded, which casts doubt on the cautious optimism of some experts that the new strain may not be as virulent and not overwhelm healthcare systems. The study was released just as record Covid-19 cases have been reported for the third consecutive day in the UK. Across the Channel, continental Europe also braces for a new Covid-19 wave, driven by the highly mutated and transmissible new variant and fanned by socializing over the Christmas holidays. As many countries are ramping up their vaccination drives and reimposing travel restrictions and other curbs, the European Commission announced on Sunday (19 December) that EU members would get an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first three months of 2022.
Responding to the surge of Covid-19 cases, some EU countries have taken steps targeting the unvaccinated, while programs are also being rolled out in several nations to vaccinate young children. Germany has banned UK tourists from visiting the country as of Sunday (December 19). Germany also considers France and Denmark, along with nearly all of its direct neighbors, “high-risk areas,” meaning those who are not vaccinated or recovered from the virus must quarantine for 10 days after entering the country. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is back to a nationwide lockdown from yesterday (19 December). Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the move was “unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant that is bearing down on us”. The French government urged people to get tested and keep Christmas gatherings small amid high infections due to Covid-19. Prime Minister Jean Castex cautioned people that in the new year the “health pass” will turn into a “vaccine pass” with more restrictions on people who are unvaccinated.

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