Tuesday

18th Jan 2022

Belgians urged to work from home as EU infections soar

  • The Grand Place in central Brussels (Photo: Alice Latta)
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Belgium has urged people to start working from home again due to surging Covid infections, as Europe grapples with the pandemic's fourth wave.

"We have to implement measures ... especially tele-working, from Monday [8 November]," Belgian health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on local radio broadcaster de Ochtend on Friday.

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"We must act now … if this surge continues we will exceed the critical number of 500 people in intensive care, by all accounts a terrible scenario," he added.

"We underestimated the infectiousness of the Delta variant [of Covid]," he also said, citing figures of 1,900 Covid patients in Belgian hospitals, 360 of whom were already in intensive care.

"We must limit the number of close contacts," Vandenbroucke said.

Austria and Greece have also imposed new restrictions to cope with mounting infections.

Unvaccinated people were banned from cafes, cinemas, restaurants, and hairdressers in Austria from Monday onward, as infections broke records set a year ago.

The country reported 9,943 new cases within a 24 hour period on Saturday, surpassing the previous worst day of 13 November 2020, when 9,586 cases were logged.

"The evolution is exceptional and the occupancies of intensive-care beds are increasing significantly faster than we had expected," Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said Friday.

For its part, Latvia, which already reimposed a lockdown, last week passed a new law saying businesses could fire or force to work from home people who refused to get vaccinated.

But Austria did not go as far as that, saying waiters, for instance, could keep working without inoculation.

"One is a leisure activity undertaken voluntarily. No one forces me to go to the cinema or the restaurant. The other is my place of work," Schallenberg said.

Greek rules forcing unvaccinated people to stay out of shops unless they had proof of a negative test result from Saturday onward caused long queues in Athens, Reuters reported.

Unvaccinated Greeks were also required to present a negative test once a week to access their workplace.

The German health minister, Jens Spahn, said Friday that vaccinated people should take a booster shot six months after their first two jabs.

"This should become the norm, not the exception," he said.

"Anyone who thinks they are young and invulnerable should talk to intensive care staff," he added, addressing vaccine-scepticism among young people.

But two regional leaders warned Germany was also heading for a new lockdown.

Germany reported 37,120 new coronavirus cases on Friday, breaking previous records since the start of the pandemic.

The premier of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow, said the last 2,500 or so free intensive-care beds in the country might soon be used up.

"If we take too much time now, it will end in a lockdown like last year," Michael Kretschmer, the leader of Saxony region, told Deutschlandfunk radio.

In Croatia, where infections also broke records on Friday, public gatherings were limited from 100 to 50 people from this weekend.

"If the number of infections continue rising ... we will also introduce digital certificates for entering bars, restaurants, or fitness centres," interior minister Davor Božinović said.

The effectiveness of vaccines was waning over time and people needed top-up jabs, Maltese health minister Chris Fearne said this weekend.

"A booster shot will be offered to everyone aged over 12," he said.

MEPs seek probe into EU commissioner over Bosnia

Enlargement commissioner Várhelyi "openly colluded [with Dodik] in potentially breaking up Bosnia and Herzegovina", according to dozens of MEPs who wrote to Várhelyi's boss.

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