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Dispatches is tracking new COVID rules going into effect across Europe as infections increase and Omicron variant arrives (updated)

(Editor’s note: This post is updated regularly as COVID rules change.)

Finally.

As of late January, daily COVID-19 infections are still climbing, but the death rate and hospitalization rates across Europe are far lower than during earlier coronavirus waves. More and more countries are reaching high enough rates of vaccination to say “enough” and suspending COVID restrictions including the Republic of Ireland and France.

Here are the details:

New cases worldwide, 5 January 2022 (Worldometer)

The European Union had restricted travel to and from seven countries in southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. But the arrival of the Omicron strain is almost beside the point – many countries such as France and the Netherlands are recording the highest number of new infections since the pandemic began. France recorded about 180,000 new cases in 24 hours on 28 December, by far the worst day, and COVID-related hospitalizations are also at their highest point.

Because of rising cases there, the United Kingdom is seeing more countries closing borders to Brits.

Here are the changes as of 6 January 2022:

Austria

Austria is the first country in Europe to make vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory for all adults. There will be an “introductory phase” in February, ahead of full implementation in March. Those adults refusing to ge vaccinated will be fined as much as 3,600 euros per month.

Effective 1 February, new rules are scheduled to go into effect banning the unvaccinated from shops and offices. The Spectator has a decidedly sympathetic look at what the new laws mean for anti-vaxxers, but it’s an interesting contrarian view. Austria is at historic rates of infection, 17,000 new cases in 24 hours on 14 January.

Austria has just exited its fourth lockdown effective 12 December. Shops, theatres, museums and other cultural and entertainment venues are now open … unless you don’t have a vaccine passport. Then cases started climbing again in a fifth wave, with an historic high of 28,000 new cases in 24 hours on 19 January.

Late last year, Austria became the first European country to make COVID vaccination a legal requirement. Unvaccinated residents have been confined to their homes since mid-November, with regular monitoring to make sure they stay there.

Only about 70 percent of Austrians are vaccinated – one of the lower rates in Europe – with a fairly militant unvaccinated minority.

You can see Austria’s official coronavirus measures here.

Belgium

Belgium, where everything is pretty much open, has become the go-to destination for Dutch shoppers and those longing for a beer in a café. In other words, normal life. Yet, Belgium’s infection rate peaked at 39,321 new cases in 24 hours on 13 January. Go figure.

Not that Belgian officials didn’t try to shut down.

With Omicron cases doubling daily, Belgian officials closed concert halls, theaters, cinemas and conference centers as of 26 December, according to Politico. The public was excluded from sporting events, but Christmas markets and other outdoor gatherings were not affected. Amusement parks closed. But on 28 December the Belgian Council of State ruled measures concerning theaters are “not proportionate,” and didn’t provide enough motives to “understand why going to cultural sector performance venues was particularly dangerous for public health,” according to Euronews.

Hospitals were seeing than 170 COVID-19 cases per day, with hundreds in ICUs. More than 80 percent of Belgians are fully vaccinated.

Working from home is a thing once again, though one day in the office is allowed.

Walk-in testing centers are scheduled to open, and health officials are ramping up vaccinations and booster shots.

See the official rules here.

Denmark

Denmark was second in Europe – only behind the United Kingdom – in the number of confirmed Omicron variant cases. So Danish officials closed schools and universities early and are asking everyone who can to work from home. They’re also offering booster shots to anyone 40-years-old and older, according to the Guardian.

But as of 15 January, Danish officials are easing restrictions, reopening cinemas and music venues and allowing spectators at sporting events as hospitalisation rates and deaths have stabilised despite the surge in cases, according to Reuters.

In December, Danish authorities instituted stricter rules including crowd limits in stores, closing entertainment venues and conference centers, and a mandatory mask requirement in most public places.

You can see the official website here.

Finland

Finland is reinstituting rules similar to restrictions at the 2020 height of the pandemic. And those rules are nuanced and convoluted as only the Scandinavians can do. They include the creation of “community-transmission areas,” which are known as “red zones” in other countries. The idea is to identify areas where the infection rate is highest.

Until February, restaurants in community-transmission areas have to stop serving alcohol by 5 p.m., according to the Helsinki Times. If they’re a bar mainly selling alcohol, they have to close by 6 p.m. and limit the number of customers to 50 per cent of usual full capacity. Restaurants primarily selling food and checking coronavirus passports to stay can open until 8 p.m. and can operate at 75-percent of capacity. Though who does the headcount and the math for enforcement isn’t clear.

Internal border controls are back. Except for Finnish citizens and permanent residents, people arriving from the EU or the Schengen Area must present their vaccination passport AND a negative coronavirus test done no more than 48 hours before departure.

France

At the end of January, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced France will lift most of its COVID-19 restrictions in February, although vaccine passport and indoor mask-wearing requirements remain in place. As of 2 February, large public venues such as stadiums reopen, and work-from-home requirements are lifted. But to enter restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and stadiums or travel on trains, you must show proof of vaccination.

This is all part of President Macron’s efforts to isolate the unvaccinated.

As of late January, France requires a vaccine passport. Everyone 12 and older needs it to prove their vaccination status if they want to access leisure activities, restaurants and bars, fairs or inter-regional public transport. A negative test will no longer be accepted except for access to health facilities and services.

Rules are also changing on the expiration of vaccine passes. From 15 January, people who were vaccinated more than seven months ago no longer are considered fully vaccinated and need to get a booster shot to validate the proof of vaccination necessary for many everyday tasks. The rule affects about 560,000 people, according to DW.

With daily new cases literally off the chart (see above) reaching an historic high of about 465,000 cases in 24 hours on 18 January, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that working from home is “mandatory” from early January. Cafes and bars are allowed to serve seated customers only for three weeks starting 3 January.

Under new rules, UK citizens now need a “compelling reason” to enter France, with trips for tourism or business banned as of 18 December. French ski resorts and the businesses that depend on putting skiers on the slopes are already writing off the season.

French officials are warning that hospital ICUs are now full of unvaccinated French citizens and are pondering banning public access to anyone who can’t prove they’ve been vaccinated, according to Politico.

Paris is reimposing requirements for face masks, even in some outdoor spaces. They’re also obligatory indoors at bars, cafés and cinemas, where you also have to show a vaccine passport to enter. Masks must be worn at any gatherings in public spaces, at festivals and big events and at outdoor markets.

As of 4 December 2021, any person aged 12 and over entering French territory must present a negative PCR or antigen test less than 24 or 48 hours old, depending on the country of origin. And that’s along with your vaccination passport. You can see all the details here.

You can see more travel rules here on the French diplomacy website.

Germany

With cases rising faster than anyone can count, with a pandemic record of 139,000 new cases in 24 hours reported on 21 January. German officials are instituting new measures, and only fully vaccinated people can enter restaurants. You need proof of a negative COVID test and a booster shot. DW has the details.

Effective 28 December, spectators are banned from sporting events, cultural shows, concerts and other large public events. Nightclubs will again be closed but vaccination centers will be open, even during the holidays.

We know from personal experience that you have to present an international vaccine passport to enter stores, restaurants and supermarkets.

Travelers to Germany from the United Kingdom are required to quarantine for two weeks, instituting what is essentially a ban on Brits. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach predicted Friday, 17 December, that the omicron variant would spark a “massive fifth wave” of the pandemic.

Germany is alreading following Austria’s lead, announcing on 2 December that it would lockdown unvaccinated citizens and start the legal process of making vaccinations mandatory by February, according to CNN.

All arrivals in Germany over the age of 12 must present proof of vaccination, recovery or an approved negative COVID-19 test regardless of where they are coming from and by whatever means of transport, according to DW. This remains in force until 15 January. People from all EU countries as well as the Schengen-associated states of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein can enter.

Just to make sure, you can see various government websites laying out new COVID rules here, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Office.

Even before Omicron was identified, some German states were closing Christmas markets as COVID infection rates and hospitalizations were increasing rapidly. Only about 70 percent of Germans are vaccinated, and there’s a large and militant anti-vaxxer minority.

Greece

Greece has joined Italy, Austria and France in taking a hard line on mandatory vaccines. Greece has already made vaccination mandatory for everyone 60 years old and older. Those who failed to book an appointment by 16 January are facing a 100 euro monthly fine. The government is considering expanding mandatory vaccination to people aged 50 and up, according to Politico.

Greece has instituted a general mask mandate for outdoors and all public areas. Starting 3 January, new rules include the mandatory use of high-protection or double masks at supermarkets and on public transport.

Entertainment venues will close at midnight, capacity will be cut to 10 per cent at soccer stadiums, remote work and schedule changes will be expanded in the public sector and nursing home visits will only be permitted for people carrying a negative PCR test result, Plevris announced on on 27 December.

Euronews quotes Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as saying only 60,000 of the 580,000 unvaccinated Greeks over 60 years old have signed up for the jab. “But it is mainly people over 60 who require hospital treatment and sadly lose their life. These deaths are unnecessary,” Mitsotakis said. About 85 percent of Greeks are vaccinated.

Italy

From 5 January, vaccinations are mandatory for people over 50 years old. The measure is among the toughest vaccine mandates in Europe and takes effect immediately, according to the Guardian. From 15 February, people 50-plus working in either the public or private sector will have to present a vaccine passport or proof of recovery from COVID-19.

From 23 December, the unvaccinated are barred from public spaces. Only those with proof of vaccination or proof of recovering from COVID-19 can eat at indoor restaurants, go to the movies or attend sporting events. Outdoor New Year’s Eve celebrations are banned, and nightclubs will be closed until 31 January.

On 15 December, Italian officials introduced new requirements for travelers entering from the EU, rules in effect until 31 January. All travellers to Italy from European Union countries must undergo a COVID test before departure – including those who are vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, you can go to Italy, but you have to quarantine for 15 days.

You can see the official COVID travel rules here.

On 6 December, Italy introduced strict new rules, along fines to make sure people follow them. Access to many cultural and leisure venues, including nightclubs and sports facilities, is now restricted to those who can prove they are vaccinated or recovered under the new “super green pass” rules, according to media reports.

That means the unvaccinated are excluded from most of public life.

The basic green pass will now be required to use public transport, as well as to access places of work.

Italy registered about 228,000 new infections in 24 hours on 18 January though the death rate has started declining dramatically. You can see the details here on Worldometers.

Luxembourg

Beginning 15 January, Luxembourg will start restricting public access to the unvaccinated. Companies will require proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative PCR tests. The unvaccinated are banned from going to restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues now through 22 February. You can see more details here.

Luxembourg is now closed to arrivals from third-party countries outside the European Union unless they’re coming from a limited number of countries including the United States and Canada. You can see the full list here on the official website.

Netherlands

The Netherlands went back into lockdown on 5 December. But as of 15 January, that’s lifted somewhat. Non-essential stores can open until 5 p.m., but restaurants and cafés are still closed. Theaters, museums and cinemas will stay closed until at least the end of January. Weirdly, sports clubs can open. The schools never closed, but universities did … they’re now allowed to have in-person classes, with everyone masked up.

As with most countries across Europe, the Netherlands is seeing its highest number of new infections in 24 hours, with about 57,500 reported on 21 January. But the frustrations are rising and many local gemeentes, or local governments, are telling business owners, “If you want to open, we ain’t gonna’ stop you.”

On 29 December, without warning, the Dutch government put into effect a self-quarantine requirement for travelers coming from the U.S. The quarantine period is 10 days. However, that goes to five days if those new arrivals get a negative negative test after the initial five days.

Dutch officials have designated the U.S., which was averaging more than 880,000 new cases every 24 hours, a very high-risk country.

Dutch officials have said the 5 December lockdown was ti buy time to get booster shots, which seem to be effective against the Omicron strain, administered to more citizens. About 90 percent of all adults in the Netherlands have been vaccinated, but so far fewer than 20 percent have had the booster shot, which theoretically at least reduces the severity of symptoms in breakthrough COVID cases.

Here’s the official government rules page here.

Norway

Norwegian health officials are warning as of 15 December that Omicron could infect between 90,000 and 300,000 people per day within the next three weeks and hospitals could reach capacity unless new measures proved effective, according to the Guardian. For context, the previous peak was about 1,000 cases per day, but as of 15 January, the rate of new infections every 24 hours has climbed to an historic high of 12,360.

As of late January, bars and restaurants can once again serve alcohol, but remote working is compulsory where possible, mask mandates are in effect and access to pools and gyms restricted.

Here are the official COVID rules.

Portugal

Though it has Europe’s highest vaccination rate at about 90 percent and is in better shape than the rest of Europe, Portugal has seen a rise in COVID cases, but no comparable rise in deaths or hospitalizations.

So, officials are ending the tight rules from earlier in the month.

Portugal will allow students to return to school as of 17 January, with nightclubs back open as of 14 January despite a record surge in COVID-19 cases, according to Reuters. Cases every 24 hours peaked at about about 40,000 on 15 January.

Republic of Ireland

On 21 January, officials in the Republic said, “Enough. We’re ending COVID restrictions and going back to normalcy,” citing declining hospitalization rates. Public venues such as stadiums, cinemas and pubs resumed normal operations at full capacity for the first time since the pandemic reached Ireland 22 months ago. Vaccine certificates and social distancing will no longer be required, according to Politico.

That’s only possible because of the high vaccination rate, with about 82 percent of people in the Republic fully vaccinated and/or boosted.

As of 20 December, public gathering places such as cinemas, restaurants and pubs have to close by 8 p.m.through 31 January. There are also new limits on the number of people at gatherings from sports events to weddings. You can see the details here on the BBC.

Everyone arriving in Ireland must present a current negative COVID-19 test, according to RTÉ. About 85 percent of the population is vaccinated, one of the higher rates in Europe.

Slovakia

As of 18 January, Slovakia easing its COVID-19 restriction after a 90-day state of emergency even though the country is still seeing a record number of new daily infections.

See more details here on Slovak Spectator.

Spain

We just got this from Travel Spain:

Starting 1 February, U.S. travelers visiting Spain must be fully vaccinated and must have received the last required dose of their COVID vaccine no less than 14 days and no more than 270 days prior to arrival in Spain. If more than 270 days have passed since the last required dose, travelers must show proof of having received a booster shot at least 14 days prior to arrival.

Spain accepts vaccines approved by the World Health Organization: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac, and Sinopharm.

You can read more details here.

Daily cases are running at about 150,000 as of late January, dropping below historic highs earlier in the month. But unlike many countries across Europe, hospital admissions are higher than at any time since 2020, according to El Pais in English. But Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced his government is approaching the coronavirus not as a pandemic, but as an illness that’s here to stay. Spain’s approach to restrictions varies across its 17 regions. Madrid has taken a hands-off approach, while other regions are enforcing restrictions.

Authorities in Catalonia announced in December they are bringing back restrictions which include a 1 a.m. curfew, the suspension of nightlife, and capacity limits effective 23 December.

A curfew is in place in Catalonia and a vaccine passport is required to enter many public spaces in regions such as Galicia, the Basque Country and Andalucía. The only nationwide measure is the reintroduction of the obligatory use of face masks outdoors.

So check out the rules if you’re planning to visit a particular region.

Effective 1 December, visitors from the United Kingdom who are not EU residents will have to be fully vaccinated to enter Spain. About 85 percent of Spanish residents are fully vaccinated.

Sweden

Sweden was the outlier in the earlier COVID-19 waves, leaving everything open in some curious experiment to reach the mythical “herd immunity.” It kind of worked. The Scandinavian country ended up with about 1,500 deaths per 1 million in population, middle-of-the-pack for Europe, where countries such as Italy topped 2,200.

Now, even Sweden is imposing rules including social distancing and masks on public transportation. Vaccination passes are required for indoor events with more than 100 participants and restaurant restrictions might be next, according to U.S News & World Report.

New daily cases are at historic highs as of the end of January, almost 40,000 on 19 January.

From December 23, people are urged to work from home, public events with between 20 and 500 attendants must have the audience seated and large events will need to require proof of vaccinations.

Switzerland

Switzerland will extend until the end of February coronavirus quarantine and mandatory work-from-home rules. Other restrictions on public life could continue until the end of March, according to Reuters.

Switzerland announced that starting 1 February 1, it will recognise as valid only vaccination passports of people who have completed their vaccination within the last 270 days.

Following the lead of Austria, Switzerland is confining the unvaccinated to their homes. Only residents who can prove they are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 will be able to access restaurants, cultural venues, or other indoor events.

Switzerland voted 28 November to keep pandemic restrictions – put into place this past March – as the number of cases rise. And the vote included introduction of a vaccine passport, which is hugely controversial in this libertarian paradise.

You can see more details here on CNN.

United Kingdom

On 19 January, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the UK “must learn to live with COVID in the same way we have to live with flu.”

So now, most Plan B restrictions are ending. Work from home guidance has been dropped and rules on face masks in schools have been scrapped. COVID passports and the requirement to wear face-coverings on public transport and in shops also have ended.

Plan B rules – which included the mandatory wearing of face masks in some settings, the use of vaccine passports or negative lateral flow tests and working from home – were reviewed on 26 January.

Since about 19 December, UK was on a multi-day streak of record infection rates, with more than 218,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported on 5 January, the historic peak so far. However, as of late January, that rate has dropped to about 76,000 daily infections as of 22 January.

From 15 December, adults had to show a COVID pass to enter nightclubs and other large events in England, according to Sky News. The rules applied to nightclubs, indoor unseated venues with a capacity of more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues that hold more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

The UK had instituted new travel rules, including PCR tests for all new arrivals, and self-isolation for those testing positive. That ended 5 January, and pre-departure coronavirus tests will no longer be required to enter England. That’s only England. Scotland, Ireland and Wales have different rules. New arrivals will have to take a lateral flow test on their second day in-country.

Though he didn’t die when he was hospitalized with the virus, the political career of Prime Minister Boris Johnson might end up being a COVID fatality. Johnson’s political foes inside and outside his Conservative Party are calling for him to resign after former cabinet members revealed he attended, or organized, drinking parties at 10 Downing Street for his friends and cronies in 2020 and 2021 while locking down ordinary people.

A new poll shows Boris’ popularity has fallen below Theresa May’s when she was PM, and we know what happened to her ….

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