European countries set for partial lockdowns as Covid cases soar
The Netherlands and Austria are days away from imposing new lockdowns in a bid to stop a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Uneven vaccine coverage and a relaxation of preventive measures have brought Europe to a ‘critical point’ in the pandemic, the World Health Organisation said last week.
Restrictions coming into force tomorrow in the Netherlands are the first by a western European country since the summer.
Bars, restaurants and non-essential stores will be ordered to close at 7pm for at least three weeks starting on Saturday, a Dutch broadcasting organisation said citing government sources.
People will be urged to work from home as much as possible, and audiences will be banned from attending sporting events in the coming weeks.
Schools, theatres and cinemas, however, are set to remain open.
The partial lockdown, due to be announced by prime minister Mark Rutte in a televised press conference scheduled for 6pm, would last longer than the 14 days recommended by the government’s outbreak management team.
Brits are still allowed to visit the Netherlands if they are fully vaccinated, even though Dutch authorities currently classify the UK as a ‘very high risk country’.
Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in the Netherlands must show either a negative PCR test result or a a negative antigen test result, according to Government guidance.
The Dutch authorities have not yet indicated that it plans to further restrict foreign travel but this could change.
Latvia was the first country to reimpose lockdown in Europe to combat the fourth wave of Covid-19.
The country announced a month-long lockdown three weeks ago after an unprecedented surge in infections.
President Vladimir Putin declared a holiday period for Russia from October 30 to curb infections, however, it ended on November 7.
New restrictions on the Netherlands would mean a drastic turn in policy for its government, which until last month thought that a relatively high vaccination rate would mean it could further ease measures towards the end of the year.
However, new Covid-19 cases in the country of 17.5 million have increased rapidly after social distancing measures were dropped in September.
According to the latest figures, they hit a record of around 16,300 in 24 hours.
This has led to pressure on hospitals, forcing them to scale back regular care again to treat patients with the virus.
But the Netherlands is not alone in reintroducing stricter controls.
Austria is also considering locking down millions of people not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in lockdown in a matter of days.
Officials in Upper Austria province, which has the lowest vaccination rate and the highest infection rate, plan to impose restrictions from Monday if given the green light by the federal government.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg pointed out a lockdown for the unvaccinated was ‘probably unavoidable’ and that they faced an ‘uncomfortable’ winter and Christmas.
During a visit to Bregenz in western Austria, he said: ‘I don’t see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering.
‘For me, it is clear that there should be no lockdown for the vaccinated out of solidarity for the unvaccinated.’
Austrian regional governor Thomas Stelzer also described the situation as ‘dramatic’.
Those who are not vaccinated will have restrictions placed on their daily movements, including bans from restaurants, hotels, hairdressing salons and large public events.
Courtesy of metro.co.uk
COVID-19: Strict national lockdown imposed on France as Emmanuel Macron warns ‘the numbers are charging away from us
France will widen strict lockdown restrictions – which have already been in place in several areas including Paris – to the whole country to combat a third wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe.
In a televised address to the nation, President Emmanuel Macron said the measures will come into effect on Saturday and be in place for at least a month.
He warned the country would “lose control if we do not move now”, introducing restrictions including closing non-essential shops, and shutting schools for three weeks after Easter.
He said timetables will be adapted to allow for one week of online lessons, followed by a two-week holiday.
There will be a month-long domestic travel ban, and a nationwide 7pm-6am curfew will remain in place.
Mr Macron said “the numbers are charging away from us” and France is now faced with “a race against the clock”.
The extended measures mark a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regional restrictions.
School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort, with the president appearing reluctant to bring in the measure and saying children’s education was “non-negotiable”.
His announcement comes after doctors warned that hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed by the number of sick people needing treatment.
Daily new infections hit 59,038 on Wednesday, up from around 20,000 in February.
And on Tuesday, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care breached 5,000, exceeding the peak hit during a six-week long lockdown in the autumn.
Mr Macron revealed worrying new data had been seen in recent days, including figures showing 44% of patients in French ICUs are now under the age of 65.
Sky’s Europe correspondent Adam Parsons said of the president’s address: “This really was a classic bit of Emmanuel Macron rhetoric. It was a speech laced with care, with politics and also with a little grain of self-aggrandisement.”
He said that the measures announced are “pretty much the pillars of the lockdown of last year”.
Mr Macron had been holding off another national lockdown since the start of the year, hoping to steer France out of the pandemic while giving the economy a chance to recover from a deep slump.
However, in recent weeks, options have narrowed as the highly contagious and virulent coronavirus variant first detected in Britain has swept across France and much of Europe.
Ten days ago, the government shut non-essential stores and limited people’s movements in Paris and other regions ravaged by the virus.
The president defended his choice not to introduce stricter measures earlier, saying he believes the government “acted rightly” to trust the public.
But he did admit to having “made mistakes” in his handling of the pandemic which he had “learned” from.
“At every stage of this epidemic, we could tell ourselves that we could have done better, that we made mistakes. All of this is true,” he said.
“But I do know one thing: we held on, we learned, and we got better every time.”
Following the news, Labour’s shadow home secretary said it is now “even more urgent” stricter border controls are imposed on France.
“It’s reckless and unacceptable for only 1% of international arrivals to quarantine in a hotel,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds.
Courtesy of Sky News
Tokyo declares state of emergency over coronavirus case surge but promises ‘safe and secure’ Olympics
Japan’s PM has cited a “strong sense of crisis” while placing the Tokyo metropolitan area in a state of emergency over a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, even as the Japanese capital gears up to host the Olympics this summer.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to improve the coronavirus situation in one month, authorizing more robust measures on Thursday to fight a surge in infections. The announcement comes days after the prime minister’s coronavirus expert panel recommended that a state of emergency should be declared and governors from the affected prefectures urged the central government to act, due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
The state of emergency will come into force on Friday, lasting until February 7, and will require residents to stay home. Restaurants and bars will close at 8pm, with department stores, gyms, and entertainment facilities working shorter hours.
Employees will be encouraged to work from home to reduce the number of people in the office by 70 percent.
It’s the second declaration of emergency since April, and the measures are more relaxed, as schools and many businesses were temporarily closed and events cancelled nationwide in the spring.
Those that fail to comply will not face penalties or fines, as Japanese law does not allow for strict lockdowns enforced with punishment. The government will increase financial support for those bars and restaurants that cooperate with the requirement to close by 8pm, and “name and shame” those that do not.
Despite the health crisis, the prime minister pledged earlier this month that Tokyo would host the Olympics this summer, promising that “steady preparations” would make the games “safe and secure.”
Japan and the International Olympic Committee decided in March last year to postpone the Games amid the developing coronavirus pandemic.
Deaths from Covid-19 in Japan have doubled in less than two months and now stand at more than 3,700, with the total number of infections at more than 252,000. The Tokyo governor said last month that the strain on the city’s medical system from the Covid-19 pandemic was “severe.”
In late December, Japan confirmed that the new highly contagious strain of coronavirus originating in the UK is circulating in the country, and it has tightened travel restrictions.
The Japanese government reportedly expects to start mass vaccination against coronavirus in March. US-based vaccine manufacturer Pfizer applied in December for its vaccine to be approved in Japan, with the country ordering 120 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Courtesy of rt.com
COVID-19: Boris Johnson announces new national lockdown for England
Boris Johnson has announced a new national lockdown for England, with people instructed to “stay at home” as they did during March’s first lockdown.
The prime minister revealed the action in an eight-minute TV address on Monday night, after being told that COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly in every part of the country due to the new coronavirus variant.
The public are being asked to follow the new rules, which replace the tiers system, from this evening.
It is expected the new lockdown in England – the third time a national shutdown has been introduced – will last until the middle of February.
People across the whole country must now stay at home apart from five exceptions:
for work, if people cannot work from home, such as those in the construction sector or key workers
to shop for necessities such as food or medicines
to exercise once per day at a local location. This can include with one other person from outside someone’s household or support/childcare bubble
to provide care or help to vulnerable people
to attend medical appointments or medical care, or to flee the threat of harm or violence.
All primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from tomorrow.
However, nurseries can remain open while childcare and support bubbles will stay in place.
Those who are judged to be clinically vulnerable are being urged to stay at home as much as possible and not go to work even if they can’t work from home.
They should only go outside for exercise or to attend health appointments.
Mr Johnson said the new coronavirus variant was spreading at a “frustrating and alarming” speed.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he added.
The prime minister’s announcement came after the UK’s COVID alert level was raised from Level 4 to Level 5, the highest possible, for the first time.
In a stark warning, the UK’s chief medical officers said there was a “material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days” without further action.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had earlier announced a nationwide lockdown would be introduced in Scotland from midnight tonight.
And the Welsh government announced that all schools and colleges will move to online learning until 18 January.
The UK recorded 58,784 new coronavirus cases on Monday – the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.
It is the seventh day in a row that there have been more than 50,000 daily cases, while government figures also showed there have been 407 more deaths in the past 24 hours.
The House of Commons will be recalled from its current recess to sit on Wednesday, so MPs can hear a statement from Mr Johnson and to vote on the new lockdown restrictions.
However Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons’ Speaker, urged MPs to stay away from Westminster “unless absolutely necessary” and to take part virtually.
New polling published by YouGov on Monday suggested 79% of Britons are supportive of another lockdown for the UK, compared to 16% who are against a fresh nationwide shutdown.
Courtesy of Sky News
COVID-19: UK coronavirus alert level ‘to be raised to 5’ – highest possible
The UK’s coronavirus alert level will be raised from 4 to 5 for the first time, government sources have said.
Level 5 or “red” means there is a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”, compared to Level 4 when transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.
The COVID-19 alert level refers to the threat of the epidemic and is separate from the tiering system in England.
It is set by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which includes all four nations’ chief medical officers, and determines how strict coronavirus restrictions should be.
The system was created in May, when the government mapped a way out of the initial lockdown – moving the alert level from 4 to 3.
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to address the nation from Downing Street at 8pm tonight in light of the rapid spread of the new variant of the virus.
A Number 10 spokesman said ahead of the announcement: “The spread of the new variant of COVID-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
“The prime minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives. He will set those out this evening.”
Scotland has already announced it will lockdown almost all of the country from midnight on Tuesday, with schools closed until at least 1 February.
Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster will join a call with the government ahead of this evening’s announcement.
The Welsh government has not yet announced any further restrictions, with the country currently in Alert Level 4.
Courtesy of Sky News
COVID-19: Nicola Sturgeon announces lockdown in Scotland from midnight
A lockdown for most of Scotland will be introduced from midnight tonight, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The first minister told the Scottish Parliament there will be a legal requirement for people to stay at home for the rest of January in areas currently in Level 4, which covers mainland Scotland and Skye.
Schools will also remain closed to most pupils until the start of February at the earliest.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” Ms Sturgeon said.
She said the increased transmissibility of a new COVID-19 variant first identified in the UK means that Scotland’s current Level 4 restrictions may not be enough to bring the R number back below 1.
“It is essential that we further limit interaction between different households to stem the spread and bring the situation back under control, while we vaccinate more people,” the first minister said.
“In short, we must return for a period to a situation much closer to the lockdown of last March.”
Failing to act further could see the NHS in Scotland overrun with coronavirus patients within “three or four weeks”, Ms Sturgeon added.
“We have an opportunity in Scotland to avert the situation here deteriorating to that extent,” the first minister told MSPs.
“But we must act quickly.”
Scotland reported 1,905 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, down from the 2,464 reported on Sunday. The daily test positivity rate stood at 15%, a small drop from 15.2% on Sunday.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands are the only parts of Scotland that are in Level 3.
Ms Sturgeon said the new restrictions will be kept under review but added: “However, I cannot at this stage rule out having to keep them in place longer, nor making further changes. Nothing about this is easy.”
The schools announcement will mean an extra two weeks of home learning for most children.
The Scottish government had already extended the Christmas break until 11 January, with the original plan for remote learning to continue until 18 January.
Schools will remain open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers who cannot work from home.
“Just as the last places we ever want to close are schools and nurseries, so it is the case that schools and nurseries will be the first places we want to reopen as we re-emerge from this latest lockdown,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“They remain our priority.”
Updating MSPs on the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said one million people will have had a jab by the end of the month.
She added that it is hoped that the most vulnerable people in the country and those over the age of 50 will have had their first dose by the end of May.
And the first minister implored Scots to “stick with” the new rules as the vaccines are rolled out.
“I know that the next few weeks will be incredibly tough,” Ms Sturgeon acknowledged.
“I’m sorry to ask for further sacrifices, after nine long months of them. But these sacrifices are necessary.
“And the difference between now and last March is that with the help of vaccines, we now have confidence that they will pave the way to brighter days ahead. So – for everyone’s sake and safety – please stick with it and stay home.”
The first minister also reprised the public messaging from the lockdown last March, saying: “Stay home. Save lives. Protect the NHS.”
Courtesy of Sky News
COVID-19: Tier 4 lockdown announced for London and most of South East – with Christmas bubbles cancelled for millions
Millions of people across southeast England will no longer be able to mix with other households at Christmas, with a new Tier 4 level of COVID restrictions – equivalent to a full lockdown – to come into force tomorrow.
In a dramatic move, prompted by fears over a new strain of coronavirus, all those areas currently in Tier 3 in the South East – including London – will move to the new Tier 4 on Sunday.
And, in further stark action across the rest of England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the planned five-day easing of restrictions over the festive period will now be limited to a single day.
“We cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” said Mr Johnson, as he announced the action “with a very heavy heart” at a Downing Street news conference on Saturday.
The Tier 4 measures will see all non-essential shops, gyms, and hairdressers close, with people ordered to stay home apart from limited exceptions such as work – if people cannot work from home – education, childcare and exercise.
People in Tier 4 areas will no longer be allowed to form “Christmas bubbles” with other households.
Meanwhile, outside of the South East, people will still be allowed to mix in private homes with up to two other households, but now only on Christmas Day.
The Tier 4 measures in the South East will be in place for an initial two-week period, and Mr Johnson stressed that people must stick to the rules for the New Year period.
Those in Tier 4 areas are being ordered not to stay overnight away from home or travel abroad for holidays, while people in other areas are being advised not to enter Tier 4 areas – and not to travel generally if they can avoid it.
Under England’s new highest level of restrictions, only one person from a household can meet with another person from a different household outside, although exemptions will continue for support bubbles and childcare bubbles.
Those who are deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable will be told to follow the same guidance as during November’s England-wide lockdown, which urged those people to stay at home as much as possible apart from outdoor exercise or to attend health appointments.
Downing Street suggested schools would still reopen in Tier 4 areas after the Christmas holidays.
The action has been prompted by the government’s fears over a new strain of coronavirus – known as VUI-202012/01 – which is believed to spread more quickly than the original strain and is judged to be the reason for rapidly rising infection rates in the South East.
Mr Johnson said it could be up to “77% more transmissible”, and that the situation had given him “no alternative” but to toughen up restrictions.
However, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, has said there is “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this”.
COVID-19 cases have been nearly doubling in London over the past few weeks, while in Kent cases have continued to rise despite the county having been under Tier 3 measures since the end of last month’s lockdown.
This has led to fears that Tier 3 measures are unable to contain the new strain and more needs to be done in London and the South East.
The new strain has been detected in two other countries other than the UK, albeit in very small quantities.
People in all tiers in England were advised to “stay local” by Mr Johnson and to “carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad”.
The prime minister earlier chaired a cabinet meeting on Saturday afternoon.
There are currently no plans to recall parliament to allow MPs to vote on the new measures.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was due to hold her own news conference later on Saturday.
Courtesy of Sky News
Coronavirus: England to enter month-long lockdown from Thursday, PM announces
England will enter a month-long lockdown from Thursday, Boris Johnson has announced.
Until 2 December, people in England will only be allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons, such as education, work or food shopping.
Schools, colleges and universities will remain open while those who cannot work from home, such as construction or manufacturing workers, will be encouraged to continue going to their workplaces.
Pubs, bars and restaurants will close across the country, although they will be able to offer takeaway and delivery services.
Non-essential shops, hairdressers and leisure and entertainment venues will also be shut.
Different households will be banned from mixing, although support bubbles and childcare bubbles will remain and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.
Gyms will be shut but people can continue to exercise for unlimited periods outdoors, either with people from their own households or on a one-to-one basis with one person from another household.
People will be able to travel internationally for work, but won’t be allowed to go abroad for holidays.
Premier League football and other elite sports will be allowed to continue, due to the testing regimes in place for professional sportspeople, but amateur sports will be put on hold.
The prime minister announced the new nationwide restrictions at a Downing Street news conference, with MPs expected to vote on the fresh measures on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson has taken the action after warnings from the government’s scientific advisers that hospitals could run out of beds by early December without new measures.
Until now, the government has been pursuing a localised approach to COVID-19 restrictions, with England divided into three levels of measures, depending on local infection rates.
The government’s aim is that, after the month-long period of tougher national measures, different parts of the country will be released back into the existing three tiers, depending on regional transmission rates.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Johnson’s top ministers were briefed by the government’s scientists prior to a remote cabinet meeting.
The prime minister also held talks with senior Conservative MPs.
Courtesy of Sky News