The weekly protests in the Netherlands against the country’s 5 p.m. lockdown and other new restrictions have turned into violence, despite what appears to be overwhelming acceptance of the rules.
In Israel, the government on Thursday ended the use of controversial phone tracking technology to trace possible cases of the new variant of the coronavirus after a public outcry.
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With the delta variant of COVID-19 increasing cases in Europe and fears growing over the omicron variant, governments around the world are considering new measures for populations tired of hearing about restrictions and vaccines.
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It’s a thorny calculation made more difficult by the prospect of backlash, increased social divisions and, for many politicians, the fear of being removed from office.
“I know the frustration we all feel with this variant of omicron, the feeling of exhaustion that we might be reliving it all,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday, two days after the government announced the masks would again be mandatory. in shops and on public transport and required all foreign visitors to undergo a COVID-19 test and quarantine. “We try to take a balanced and proportionate approach.
New restrictions, or variations of old ones, are emerging around the world, especially in Europe, where leaders are scrambling to explain what looks like a broken promise: that mass vaccinations would mean an end to limitations. widely hated.
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“People need normality. They need families, they need to see people, obviously safe, with social distancing, but I really think this Christmas now people have had enough, ”said Belinda Storey, who runs a booth on a Christmas market in Nottingham, England.
In the Netherlands, where the lockdown went into effect last week, mounted police are patrolling the streets to disperse protests. But most people seemed resigned to shopping and going home.
“The only thing we can do is listen to the rules, follow them and hope it doesn’t get worse. For me this is not a problem. I am a nurse. I know how sick people get, ”said Wilma van Kampen.
Huburt Bruls, who as mayor of the Dutch city of Nijmegen banned a protest last weekend, said he sympathized with the frustration but was ready to apply national rules.
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“There has been a lot of disappointment about the effects of vaccination. Everyone did their best, we had one of the highest vaccination rates, and it wasn’t enough. Infections are higher than ever. I myself was a little disappointed, but we have to look to the future, ”he said.
In Greece, residents over 60 face fines of 100 euros (US $ 113) per month if they do not get the vaccine. The fines will be added to the tax bills in January. About 17% of Greeks over 60 are not vaccinated despite various efforts to get them to be vaccinated, and nine in 10 Greeks who now die from COVID-19 are over 60.
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“I don’t care if the measure will cost me extra votes in the elections,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday after lawmakers passed the measure. “I have no doubts that we are doing the right thing, and I have no doubts that this policy will save lives. “
By using a carrot instead of a stick, the Slovak government is proposing to give people 60 and over a bonus of 500 euros (US $ 568) if they get vaccinated.
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In Israel, the government this week briefly resumed the use of phone-based surveillance technology to perform contact tracing of people confirmed to have the omicron variant, only to stop use on Thursday.
“From the start, I noted that the use of this tool would be limited and brief – for a few days, in order to obtain urgent information to stop the infection with the new, unknown variant,” said the Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz on Twitter.
In South Africa, which alerted the World Health Organization to the omicron variant, previous restrictions included curfews and a ban on the sale of alcohol. This time, President Cyril Ramaphosa is simply calling for more people to get vaccinated “to help restore the social freedoms we all aspire to”.
Germany on Thursday imposed strict new limits on unvaccinated people, excluding them from shops, restaurants and other large non-essential public places. They can only go to work with a negative test.
The legislature is expected to adopt a general mandate on vaccines in the coming weeks.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said these measures were necessary because hospitals risked being overloaded: “The situation in our country is serious.
In the United States, there is little appetite in both political parties for a return to lockdowns or strict contact tracing. The application of even simple measures such as wearing a mask has become a political flashpoint. And Republicans are suing to block the Biden administration’s new requirement to get vaccinated or tested for large employers.
President Joe Biden, whose political fate may well hinge on control of the pandemic on Thursday, decided to tighten testing requirements for people entering the United States and recommended that Americans wear masks indoors in public. But he said his new strategy “did not include closures and blockades,” and he hoped for bipartisan support.
“It’s a plan that I think should unite us,” he said.
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The ramp-up of the new variant makes little difference to Mark Christensen, a grain buyer for an ethanol plant in Nebraska. He rejects any mandate for vaccination and does not understand why it would be necessary. In any event, he said, most businesses in his corner of the state are too small to be regulated.
“If they were just encouraging me to take it, that’s one thing,” Christensen said. “But I believe in freedom of choice, not decisions by force. “
Chile has taken a harder line since the emergence of the omicron: people over the age of 18 must receive a booster dose every six months to keep their passes that allow them access to restaurants, hotels and public gatherings.
Dr Madhukar Pai, of McGill University’s School of Population and Public Health, said masks are an easy and painless way to reduce transmission, but cheap home tests have to be a lot. more prevalent, both in rich and poor countries.
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He said both approaches give people a sense of control over their own behavior that is lost with a lockdown and make it easier to accept the need to do things like cancel a party or stay indoors.
Pai said demanding recalls universally, as is essentially the case in Israel, Chile and many countries in Europe, including France, will only prolong the pandemic by making it harder to get the firsts. doses in the developing world. This increases the chances of even more variations.
Blockages, he said, should be the very last choice.
“Blockages only happen when a system goes down,” he said. “We do it when the hospital system is about to collapse. It’s a last resort that indicates you haven’t done all the right things.
© 2021 The Canadian Press