With the world having been plagued by the coronavirus for far too long, Belgium’s word of the year, “knaldrang!” — the desire to party, the need to let loose — is one that the entire world can appreciate. However, as the New Year’s Eve celebrations draw closer, the omicron variant is casting a darker shadow.
The French government and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were assessing the most recent data and the need to counter the record numbers of COVID-19 infections with additional measures to keep people apart at a time when they so desperately want to be together, according to the latest available information.
However, with indications that omicron may be a milder variant despite its high transmissibility, politicians were forced to choose between further destabilizing yet another political party and playing it safe in order to prevent health-care systems from collapsing altogether.
Further complicating matters was the lack of complete data over the Christmas holiday weekend, making it more difficult to trace the rise of omicron’s trajectory over time.
On Monday, a number of new measures were implemented in Belgium, putting the populace to the test for the first time. Shopping was restricted to no more than two adults, possibly with children in tow, and movie theaters and concert halls were closed at a time when a large number of families were on vacation at the same time.
“It’s also important for our mental well-being.” It is the only way for people to live their experiences and tell their stories to one another. In these difficult and complicated times, it is critical for us to maintain an open mind, according to Michael De Kok, artistic director of the Flemish Royal Theatre.
Even communal celebrations such as New Year’s fireworks, which would normally draw throngs of people to Brussels in search of the best views, are off the table. Nightclubs have already closed their doors, and restaurants and bars must close their doors at 11 p.m. as well.
Similar creeping maneuvers are being employed in the United Kingdom. Scotland will close its nightclubs on Monday, following the precedent set by Northern Ireland and Wales, which closed theirs on Sunday. However, nightclubs in England will remain open. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to be briefed on the latest data on the spread of omicron, despite his opposition to imposing new restrictions. Johnson has not ruled out imposing new restrictions in the future.
Even the constant stream of English Premier League games, which has become a staple of British holiday celebrations, is under threat…. In just over two and a half weeks, the league has already canceled 15 soccer matches, with more possible cancellations in the near future.
The number of people infected daily in the United Kingdom reached a new high of 122,186 on Friday, but there were no figures released over the long Christmas weekend.
For the first time during the pandemic, France recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day, and COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled in the last month. President Emmanuel Macron’s government is holding emergency meetings on Monday to discuss the next steps in combating the virus. Macron was elected in 2017.
It is hoped that the increased vaccinations will be enough to protect the population. Currently, the government is promoting a draft law that would require vaccination in order to enter all restaurants and many public venues, as opposed to the current health pass system, which allows people to show a negative test or proof of recovery in order to enter if they haven’t been immunized.
Throughout much of Europe, this piecemeal, often hesitant approach can be seen in action. Nightclubs may be closed in Poland, a country of 38 million people where the daily death toll now regularly exceeds 500 cases, but they will be allowed to reopen on New Year’s Eve, as the government is unwilling to go against the will of the majority of voters who oppose restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.
Unlike in other countries, the Italian government has not mandated any rules for private gatherings. However, it has set its sights on New Year’s Eve, prohibiting outdoor events and closing discotheques until at least the end of January.
When it comes to disjointed decision-making, the Netherlands is currently the exception rather than the rule. In a partial new lockdown, the government of that country has gone further than the governments of most European countries, closing all non-essential stores, restaurants, and bars, as well as extending school holidays.