Protests in Rotterdam: Europe Covid mobilizes as restrictions tighten
Protests over the new restrictions have turned ugly in a European city as the continent faces growing hostility amid the growing number of Covid cases.
The Netherlands has become a ‘war zone’ as protests against Covid-19 restrictions escalated into riots, with police firing warning shots and using water cannons against violent protesters.
It comes as Europe faces a new wave of coronavirus and the threat of future lockdowns as the winter holiday season approaches.
And just as countries on the continent relax stringent Covid measures, the World Health Organization (WHO) is now calling on people to resume wearing masks as the number of infections across Europe continues to rise .
Riots hit the Netherlands
Last week, the Netherlands returned to a three-week partial lockdown in an effort to bring the growing number of Covid cases under control.
As of Thursday last week, the country recorded 16,364 new cases – the highest number at any time during the pandemic.
Acting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government wanted to “deal a blow to the virus”.
Under the lockdown rules, bars, restaurants and supermarkets will have to close at 8 p.m., sports matches will be played in empty stadiums, and people are encouraged to work from home where possible.
Stores selling non-essential items will be required to close at 6 p.m.
Masks should also be worn in stores and on public transport.
“Tonight we have a very unpleasant message with some very unpleasant and far-reaching decisions,” Mr Rutte said when announcing the lockdown.
In Rotterdam, residents angry at the new restrictions took to the streets as the situation quickly turned into violence.
Protesters shouted slogans such as “freedom”, threw stones and fireworks, and set police cars on fire, while police tried to calm the situation by using water cannons and firing guns. warning shots.
“Four rioters were injured when they were hit by bullets; they stay in the hospital, ”Dutch police said in a tweet. They added that 51 people had been arrested, half of whom were under 18.
Calling the riots an “orgy of violence”, Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said that “on several occasions the police have found it necessary to draw their weapons in order to defend themselves”.
Local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam condemned the violence in a tweet.
“The center of our beautiful city has turned into a war zone tonight,” he said. “Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with the things that are happening, but violence is never, ever the solution. “
Covid has killed more than 18,600 people in the Netherlands.
The country, where nearly 85% of adults are fully vaccinated, largely ended lockdown restrictions in late September.
Austria to legalize vaccination
After previously announcing lockdown restrictions for unvaccinated people only, Austria has now gone further by becoming the first European country to make Covid vaccination a legal requirement.
He also announced a full nationwide lockdown to help curb the growing number of infections.
Details on how the vaccination mandate will be applied are still under discussion with the government. The new law will come into force from February next year.
The measure is in response to the increasing number of cases and low national immunization levels.
More than a third of Austria’s population is unvaccinated and as of Saturday there were 15,809 new cases – a record number for the country of 8.9 million people.
Admitting the vaccination mandate was a difficult decision to make, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the Covid vaccination was “the only way out we have to break this vicious cycle”.
“It is a problem for all of society because even those who are vaccinated, if they do not have access to an intensive care unit because they are blocked by those who are not vaccinated and have fallen ill, so they are affected too, ”Mr. Schallenberg told the BBC.
Around 40,000 people took to the streets of the capital Vienna to protest the mandate, in largely peaceful protests.
They wielded slogans saying things like “no to vaccination” and “enough is enough”.
Skirmishes broke out later on Saturday and at least five people were arrested, Austrian police said, while several others were charged with violations, including not wearing masks and displaying stars like those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust.
The Populist Freedom Party, which has opposed government restrictions on coronaviruses for the past 18 months, helped organize Saturday’s protests.
“We are all Austrians, whether we are vaccinated or not,” Udo Landbauer, a regional party leader, told the crowd at a rally in Vienna.
“We have rights, and we will continue to make noise until we get our basic rights back.”
UK case numbers refuse to budge
The rising number of Covids in the UK is worrying leaders as they try to avoid sending the country into a new lockdown.
The UK on Friday recorded 44,242 new cases of the coronavirus as the numbers refuse to go down.
“I see storm clouds gathering over parts of the European continent,” Boris Johnson said last week.
“We’ve been here before and we remember what happens when a wave starts to break.
“The UK has put in huge protection with the rollout of the vaccine.
“What I’m saying today is that the urgency to get that recall shot is more obvious than ever.
“History shows that we cannot afford to be complacent.”
The situation has echoes of last year when the UK government had to ‘cancel Christmas’ amid an increase in infections, although it previously announced the country would open up so people can celebrate the holidays. festive with their loved ones.
The government has always said it has no plans for another lockdown for England. However, Plan B – where additional Covid restrictions could be introduced – may include mandatory Covid passports for some indoor locations, mandatory face covers in some indoor environments, and guidance for working from home.
“Lockdown for the unvaccinated” in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also announced new restrictions on unvaccinated people as record infection rates are recorded across the continent.
Governments hope that by implementing the restrictions, it will encourage people to get vaccinated against Covid.
Only people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months can go out to restaurants and other events in the Czech Republic from Monday.
Slovakia has taken a similar step, with Prime Minister Eduard Heger calling the decision “containment for the unvaccinated”.
Both countries are also requiring Covid testing at workplaces.
More than 31,000 people have died from Covid in the Czech Republic since the start of the pandemic.
The number of cases is currently increasing with a record number of 22,585 infections recorded last Wednesday.
“National emergency” in Germany
Germany also hit a new high in its number of cases of the virus last week, registering more than 65,000 cases on Wednesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said a fourth wave of Covid “hits us hard”.
Hospitals in Germany are already operating at full capacity and health workers fear that once these new numbers of cases translate into hospitalizations in the coming weeks, the healthcare system will be completely overwhelmed.
Health Minister Jens Spahn called the situation a “national emergency” and refused to rule out another national lockdown.
Lothar Wieler, head of the German health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, said: “We have never been so alarmed as now.”
In the meantime, parliament has passed new measures, including limiting public transport to those who have been vaccinated or tested, and banning unvaccinated people from attending restaurants, bars and other events, in another case of a European country introducing a “lockdown for the unvaccinated”.
Extraordinary measures “are necessary and justified,” German leaders said in a statement.
“We are in the middle of the fourth wave and have to face a dramatic situation and draw the necessary conclusions,” Merkel said.
WHO “very worried” about the situation in Europe
Europe was the only region in the world where Covid-related deaths increased last week, according to WHO statistics.
The world health agency said it was “very concerned” as Europe battles the new wave of Covid-19 infections.
Talk to the BBCWHO Regional Director Dr Hans Kluge has warned that 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken.
He said an increase in the use of masks could immediately help, along with an increase in vaccination.
“The Covid-19 has once again become the leading cause of death in our region,” he told the BBC.
“We know what to do.”
Dr Kluge said factors such as the winter season, insufficient vaccine coverage and the dominance of the Delta variant were behind the European spread.
He called for an increase in immunization and the implementation of basic public health measures and new medical treatments to help fight this increase.
Dr Kluge said compulsory vaccination measures should be seen as a “last resort”, but that it would be “very timely” to have a “legal and societal debate” on the issue.