BERLIN – Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Scotland ordered tighter restrictions on gatherings as the Omicron variant continued its march across Europe, and Swedish officials warned that a surge of infections driven by the variant would continue rising until mid-January.
Sweden’s public health agency also released new forecasts that suggested that, under a worst-case scenario, in which vaccinations afford the least protection against being infected with Omicron, the country could see 15,000 daily infections in mid-January, far higher than previous peaks.
In Germany, state governors and Chancellor Olaf Scholz met to discuss, among other things, keeping critical infrastructure – including police, firefighters and medical services – functioning in the face of a likely Omicron surge.
Sweden’s new rules include a cap of 50 people for private gatherings and instructions that most people should work from home. In announcing them, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said that the country, which had thrown off nearly all restrictions over the summer, “must adapt to the new reality”. “I understand that many are tired of this – so am I – but we now have a new virus variant, which means we are in a new situation,” she said.
Days before Christmas, many European nations are imposing new social restrictions, mask mandates and travel rules as Omicron drives the continent’s infection rates to their highest levels of the pandemic. An average of 51 daily cases per 100,000 people is being recorded in Europe, the most of any continent.
Denmark announced on Tuesday that it had recorded 13,558 cases in the previous 24 hours, a daily record. The health minister, Mr Magnus Heunicke, said on Twitter that Omicron was now the dominant variant in the country “and continues to grow”.
The government of Portugal said Tuesday that it was reintroducing of a raft of lockdown restrictions to respond to another surge in coronavirus cases, almost half of which are now of the Omicron variant.
The measures include the closure of all nightclubs and the obligation to work from home. Residents will also have to present a negative test result to enter establishments like theatres and sports venues, while such a test result will also have to be shown to enter a restaurant on the special days of the winter holiday season, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The government said the measures would come into force Saturday. Portugal is facing a rise in cases even as it is among the countries that has the most advanced vaccination rollout, with 87 per cent of its population vaccinated to date.
Scotland announced limits on crowds at large events for three weeks, beginning the day after Christmas, and ordered bars and restaurants only to serve seated patrons in order to limit social contact. The rules in effect mean that professional sporting events will take place without spectators, following a similar announcement made by the government of Wales.
“The obligation of government is to take difficult decisions to keep the country as safe as possible, no matter how unpopular they might be,” said Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Omicron is now the dominant variant in Scotland, just as it is in London, the epicentre of the virus surge in Britain, where daily case totals have set records.