In Europe, lockdown is not an option for Christmas
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced yesterday the closure of theaters and cinemas in the country, without imposing a complete lockdown, as is now the case in neighboring Netherlands.
The announcement last week of the total lockdown by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, just days after reaching an agreement to form a new government, surprised observers, given that the country has generally adopted a more relaxed response in the earlier phases of the pandemic than its neighbors. Today, it is the only country in Europe to have closed so far in response to concerns over the omicron variant, even as the overall COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands are on the decline since two weeks.
Most European countries appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach until more information on the new variant arrives in the first weeks of 2022. In the meantime, they are following Belgium’s lead by implementing some light restrictions . The new German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, told the country this week that he “called on all our critical infrastructure organizations – especially firefighters, police, rescue services and hospitals – to activate their pandemic plans so that ‘they can keep their basic services running. ” He agreed with German state governors to impose some restrictions on social contact during the New Year’s holidays, with gatherings limited to no more than 10 people vaccinated.
Other European countries have put in place similar restrictions, which are still relatively light compared to this same period last year. Spain has extended its mask mandate to be applied outdoors. Sweden has closed nightclubs and imposed a vaccination mandate for large-scale events.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said in Geneva on Monday that this was not enough and that the holiday festivities would inevitably lead to “more cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths “. In apparent contradiction to messages from many governments around the world, he advised against holding Christmas gatherings with friends and family. “A canceled event is better than a canceled life,” he said.
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But after already being forced to call off Christmas last year, EU leaders are unwilling to take the politically unpopular step of making a similar request two years in a row, especially when the full picture of the gravity of the omicron compared to previous variants is not yet clear. At last week’s EU summit, the continent’s leaders discussed the situation, but did not appear panicked when they walked out of the meeting. The European Commission has urged EU member countries not to close their internal borders to each other, and instead coordinate travel and movement restrictions as a bloc. In a policy response to omicron, the commission this week approved a fifth vaccine to add to its arsenal, becoming the first major regulator to approve the Novavax vaccine. The United States has yet approved only three vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – while the United Kingdom has approved all three vaccines as well as AstraZeneca.
In other news
Poland must answer in court for violations of the rule of law. The EU launched legal action this week against the Polish government for undermining the independence of the judiciary in the country, exacerbating a long-standing dispute between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law. The European Commission is already withholding coronavirus recovery funds from Poland on the matter, at the request of other EU governments. The lawsuit brought by Brussels also concerns a recent legal position taken by a Polish government court challenging the rule of EU law when it conflicts with national law. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded to this latest development by reiterating the theme he has been pushing for months, namely that the dispute is over national sovereignty in the face of what he and other officials in Warsaw describe as an assault. excessive EU.
Brussels and London reach last-minute deal for 2022 fishing quotas. Amid lingering resentment over the UK’s refusal to grant all fishing licenses that France insists EU vessels are owed under the terms of the Brexit divorce deal, the UK and the EU were able to reach a last-minute deal on the separate issue of 2022 fishing quotas this week. Last week, the EU fisheries commissioner raised concerns that a deal might not be reached on time, potentially forcing the bloc to enforce 2021 catch limits in the meantime. Much like the bloc does with Norway, the EU will have to negotiate annual fishing quotas with the UK to ensure the sustainability of stocks, replacing the Common Fisheries Policy to which the UK fails. is no longer a party following its withdrawal from the EU. It was the first year of what will become a routine exercise, and the dispute was part of wider disagreements between the UK and its neighbors. The UK also struck a 2022 fishing quota deal with Norway this week, which is also a new exercise as those waters were previously covered by the annual EU-Norway deal before Brexit.
Decision on delayed nuclear and gas sustainability. The European Commission has delayed a decision, originally scheduled yesterday, on including natural gas and nuclear power in a “taxonomy” list of energy sources that can be considered sustainable for investment purposes. The burning issue rose through the political ranks and was discussed at the summit of EU leaders last week in Brussels. France wants nuclear to be on the list, but anti-nuclear Germany, which is phasing out this form of electricity from its energy mix, will only agree if natural gas is added as well. The long-awaited proposal could still see the light of day by December 31, but now it looks like the commission will not budge until early next year.
Dave Keating has been an American-European journalist based in Brussels for 12 years. Originally from the New York City area, Dave has previously covered the halls of the US Congress in Washington, courtrooms in Chicago, boardrooms in London, coffee shops in Paris and the climate campaigns in Berlin.