Europe has entered the final week before Christmas with multiple countries bracing for a post-celebration coronavirus fallout.
A number of countries are increasing their restrictions ahead of the holidays, while others such as Northern Ireland and Wales have already announced lockdowns to begin straight after Christmas Day.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic, who attended the same meeting, has also tested positive for the coronavirus it was announced on Friday (local time).
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out a fresh national lockdown after the holiday.
“We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that,” Johnson said during a visit to Manchester on Friday.
“But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
Northern Island and Wales have already announced strict lockdowns from Boxing Day and December 28, respectively.
In Scotland, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the option for a post-Christmas lockdown “remains on the table”.
Sweden is tightening nationwide restrictions by requiring many people to work from home and reducing the number who can gather in restaurants, shops and gyms starting next week, but the government decided against ordering the country’s first full lockdown to control a recent spike in virus cases, the prime minister said Friday.
The Scandinavian country has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.
However, the country has seen a rapid increase in confirmed cases that is straining the health care system. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, “The situation continues to be very serious,” which is why the government is introducing new limits on public activities.
“We believe that a lockdown is a burden for the population,” Lofven said. “We are following our strategy.”
The new restrictions taking effect on December 24 include making face masks mandatory on public transportation and pushing back a nationwide cutoff time for bars and restaurants to sell alcohol to 8pm instead of 10pm.
Sweden, which has a population of 10 million, has reported 367,120 confirmed virus cases and 7,993 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest figures.
While in Switzerland, the government said Friday it is ordering the closure of restaurants, bars, cultural venues and sports facilities next week in a renewed bid to stem a continuing rise in coronavirus cases.
The measure comes barely a week after authorities reopened eateries and watering holes in a wide swath of western Switzerland.
The closures, which take effect on Tuesday and will last through January 22, are necessary because “hospitals and healthcare workers have been under extreme pressure for weeks and the festive period increases the risk of an even more rapid rise in cases,” the government said in a statement.
“The coronavirus is not letting us go during these holidays. The situation remains critical. That’s why stricter measures have been decided,” said Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga at a news conference.
The government is restricting the number of people who can be in stores, which must close after 7pm and on Sundays and public holidays.
The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Switzerland has risen over the past two weeks from about 43 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 3 to just over 50 new cases per 100,000 people as of Thursday.
The German government says the country faces difficult months ahead, despite the upcoming arrival of a coronavirus vaccine.
Official figures Friday show 33,777 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus and 813 additional deaths in the past day.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says the expected regulatory approval of a vaccine “naturally gives us hope, but obviously it won’t solve the problem.”
He says January and February will be the “hardest that we have in this pandemic.”
Germany had contained the coronavirus early in the pandemic before a recent surge. There have been 1.4 million confirmed cases (12th highest in the world) and more than 25,000 confirmed deaths (14th), according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Spain’s health minster says the country will begin vaccinating for COVID-19 on December 27.
Salvador Illa says the Pfizer vaccines are due to arrive in Spain on December 26. He didn’t say how many doses Spain will receive initially. The country has said it will receive 140 million doses overall.
‘V Day’: Scenes of triumph as UK begins COVID-19 vaccine program
Spain says it hopes to vaccinate 2.5 million people in the first three months of 2021, starting with elderly people and health workers.
After declining substantially in recent weeks, Spain’s infections numbers are starting to rise again although they are still among the lowest in the European Union.
Croatia has banned travel between various parts of the country ahead of Christmas and New Years in a bid to curb down soaring coronavirus infections.
Authorities say from December 23 to January 8 only essential services employees, such as health workers and road maintenance crews, will be allowed to move from one region to another. Special permits will be issued in exceptional cases.
Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic says the virus situation doesn’t allow for any easing of measures for the upcoming holidays.
Croatia has reported thousands of new coronavirus infections daily for weeks, which has overwhelmed the country’s health system.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The announcement Friday came a day after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive. Both leaders attended an EU summit in Brussels last week.
The prime minister’s office says Matovic was tested on Thursday and has cancelled all his events. Members of Matovic’s coalition government are in quarantine after he led the government’s last session on Wednesday.
Slovakia is imposing an around the clock curfew on Saturday to response to a recent surge of coronavirus infections, which reached a record 3,991 cases on Thursday.
The government has urged people to isolate at least seven days or get tested before they see relatives during Christmas holidays.
The country of 5.4 million had 146,124 confirmed cases with 1,440 confirmed deaths.