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Omicron spreads global gloom as New Year’s celebrations approach

Despite indications that Omicron might be a milder coronavirus variant, several nations are considering more restrictions and lockdowns.

The Omicron variant causes more gloom across the world as New Year celebrations approach.

Monday was a case in point, with several governments considering more restrictions to add to a patchwork of measures and lockdowns already in place around Europe.

The French government and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were assessing the latest data and the need to counter the record numbers of Covid-19 infections with more measures to keep people apart at a time when they so dearly want to be together.

But with indications that Omicron might be a milder variant despite its massive transmissibility, politicians were caught in a bind whether to further spoil yet another party or play safe to make sure health care systems don’t collapse.

In Belgium, people faced their first real test with several new measures on Monday. Shopping was reduced to maximum two adults, possibly with kids in tow, and movie theaters and concert halls closed at a time when countless families are on vacation together.

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Heavy criticism

The calls to close theaters and arts centers came in for especially heavy criticism.

“We need it also for our mental health. It is the only way for people to live experiences, to tell stories. It is of paramount importance for us to be open in these complicated and complex times,” said Michael De Kok, the artistic director of the Flemish Royal Theatre.

Even communal celebrations like New Year’s fireworks, that would usually see thousands thronging Brussels for the best views, are off.

Nightclubs are already closed and restaurants and bars need to shut doors at 11 p.m.

In the United Kingdom, there are similar creeping moves. 

Scotland will close its nightclubs Monday after Northern Ireland and Wales already did so on Sunday, though they remain open in England.

Even that staple of British holiday celebrations, the steady stream of English Premier League games, is under threat.

The league has already called off 15 soccer matches in 2 1/2 weeks and more could well be upcoming.

UK daily infection numbers reached a new high of 122,186 on Friday, but there were no figures over the long Christmas weekend.

France has recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic and Covid-19 hospitalizations have doubled over the past month. 

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is holding emergency meetings Monday to discuss the next steps in tackling the virus.

Hesitant approach

This piecemeal, often hesitant approach is visible through much of Europe. In Poland, a nation of 38 million where the daily death toll now often breaks through the threshold of 500 cases, nightclubs may be closed, but they will be allowed to reopen on New Year’s Eve, with the government unwilling to go against the many voters opposed to restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.

In Italy, the government has not mandated any rules for private gatherings, but it has set its sights on New Year’s Eve, banning outdoor events and closing discotheques until the end of January.

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