Several countries in Europe have registered a record number of COVID-19 infections this week — here is our summary of the situation across the continent.
The number of new coronavirus cases globally rose by 20 percent last week to more than 18 million, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that the highly infectious Omicron variant “continues to sweep the world.”
“We are concerned about the impact Omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems,” Tedros said.
Some countries have taken steps targeting the unvaccinated, while programmes are also being rolled out to vaccinate young children.
Austria will become the first European country to introduce a vaccine mandate for adults from 1 February.
The country’s parliament approved the decision on Thursday with 137 MPs in favour and 33 against.
All citizens aged over 18 will need to be fully vaccinated — except for pregnant women, those with medical exemptions, and those who have recently recovered from infection within six months.
From March, those who can’t produce proof of vaccination will initially be fined up to €600 — a fee which could rise to €3,600.
The vote comes as Austria records a record number of cases, with nearly 30,000 new infections reported on Wednesday. Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low.
“All experts believe that we will need high overall immunity in the population next fall as well,” health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said Sunday.
“With this vaccine mandate, we will succeed in achieving these important additional percentage points in the vaccination rate.”
Austria has also announced plans for a vaccine lottery to win €500 vouchers to encourage citizens to get inoculated.
“It is important to us that there is both a reward for those who have been vaccinated and an incentive to get vaccinated now,” chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Twitter.
On Thursday, France registered more than 400,000 new COVID-19 infections for the second consecutive day.
But Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced an easing of restrictions, with the number of patients in intensive care units now stabilising.
Facemasks outside and remote working will no longer be compulsory after February 2, while nightclubs will be allowed to reopen on February 16.
The country is also set to introduce a vaccination pass to allow citizens over 16 to access bars, restaurants, and other cultural venues.
The pass must first be approved by France’s Constitutional Council on Friday before it comes into effect on Monday.
During a press conference on Thursday, Castex said the new pass should make it possible to “lift most of the restrictions”.