Germany cracks down on unvaccinated people as EU warns of Omicron spread

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Berlin: Germany has imposed stringent nationwide restrictions on people who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, limiting their access to non-essential services, football games and other public events.

Unvaccinated people will be barred from access to all but the most essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. The government is also planning to debate mandatory vaccination.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.Credit:Getty Images

The new measures are designed to counter a rise in infections as the new Omicron variant spreads across the globe, disruption life and rattling markets.

Eager to avoid nationwide lockdowns that could derail a fragile recovery of Europe’s largest economy, the German government chose to keep businesses open to the almost 69 per cent of the population that is fully vaccinated, as well as those with proof of having recovered from COVID-19.

“We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken,” outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference.

“To do this, the fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved.”

Germany is introducing curbs on unvaccinated people to try and encourage the vaccine-hesitant to come forward.Credit:Bloomberg

A nationwide vaccination mandate could take effect from February 2022 after it is debated in the parliament and after guidance from Germany’s Ethics Council, she said.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has since been identified in at least two dozen countries.

The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that Omicron could be responsible for more than half of all COVID infections in Europe within a few months, lending weight to preliminary information about its high transmissibility.

South Africa said it was seeing an increase in Omicron infections among patients who had previously contracted an earlier variant of the coronavirus.

Global shares fell on Thursday, reversing gains from the previous session as a lack of information about Omicron left markets volatile, while crude oil futures extended losses.

Travel restrictions

In the United States, the Biden administration was expected to announce an extension of restrictions relating to masks and testing.

By early next week, the US will require inbound international travellers to be tested for COVID-19 within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status.

It will also require private health insurance companies to reimburse customers for at-home COVID-19 tests, a senior administration official said.

The first known US case, announced late on Wednesday, was a fully vaccinated person in California who had travelled from South Africa. Two French cases, in the greater Paris region and in eastern France, were passengers arriving from Nigeria and South Africa.

France confirmed on Thursday that all inbound travellers would need a negative test regardless of nationality or vaccine status.

Amid all the new restrictions, Europe’s largest budget airline, Ryanair, said it expected a challenging time at Christmas, although it was still optimistic about summer demand.

In Russia, a two-week quarantine for travellers from some African countries was announced, while Hong Kong extended its travel ban to more countries.

In Canada, industry groups warned that a plan to require COVID-19 testing for all but US arrivals on international flights risked causing chaos and long lines if passengers were expected to get tested at airports.


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