Shutdowns spread as Covid deaths top 1.5 million across Europe

States across the region eye tighter measures and expedited booster shots to combat latest wave

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Europe on Thursday reached the grim milestone of 1.5 million coronavirus deaths, a sobering backdrop to the panicked efforts of many of its countries to contain the latest surge.

France accelerated its Covid-19 booster programme and with Germany's death toll surging beyond 100,000, its departing Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an urgent warning to her successor, Olaf Scholz, only one day after he unveiled his plan for the nation.

"We need more contact restrictions ... every day counts," Mrs Merkel said.

She said she had "today clearly told [Olaf Scholz] we can still manage this transition period together and look at all necessary measures".

Germany weathered earlier bouts of the pandemic better than many other European countries but a resurgence of the virus has led to intensive care beds filling up rapidly.

Europe's largest economy recorded 351 Covid-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing its official death toll since the start of the pandemic to 100,119.

The weekly case rate also hit a new high of 419.7 new infections per 100,000 people, the Robert Koch Institute health agency said.

France seeks boost in Covid battle

In Paris, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Covid-19 booster shots, until now only available to people over 65 or with health problems, would be accessible to all adults starting this weekend.

From January 15, people over 18 would need to show proof of a top-up vaccine dose to maintain a valid Covid-19 pass, which is required to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other public venues.

The minister said the stringent measure could see France through the fifth wave without recourse to another lockdown, which the government is trying desperately to avoid.

Netherlands 'gloomy' over Covid prospects

The Netherlands could also announce tougher Covid-19 restrictions this week, only days after four nights of riots against the existing partial lockdown, the country's health chief said on Wednesday.

A "gloomy and worrisome" rise in cases meant a Dutch Cabinet meeting over coronavirus measures scheduled for December 3 was brought forward by a week, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said.

Ministers will consider advice from the Dutch outbreak management team before Prime Minister Mark Rutte announces the decisions in a press conference, Mr de Jonge said.

He said he would not "anticipate" what new curbs were under consideration but Dutch media have reported they could include school closures as infection numbers soar, particularly among children.

New measures could inflame an already tense situation in the Netherlands after police fired bullets and wounded five people during violent riots in Rotterdam last Friday.

The trouble spread to The Hague on Saturday, with protesters hurling fireworks and stones at police and burning bikes, and to other cities including Groningen in the north on Sunday and Monday.

In total, 173 people were arrested with at least 12 injured nationwide.

Mr Rutte's previous two coronavirus press conferences let to demonstrators clashing with police in The Hague outside government ministries.

Coronavirus curbs brought in on November 13 included bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets closing at 8pm, sports matches being played behind closed doors and limits on visitors to people's homes.

The government this week warned he public of "lockdown-like" measures if people did not start sticking to the rules, with new cases running at more than 20,000 a day.

It is also planning to introduce "2G measures" that would bar unvaccinated people from bars and cafes.

Pfizer vaccine approved for EU children

On a more optimistic note, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Thursday received approval for 5 to 11 year olds, clearing the way for vaccination in an age group where the virus is rapidly spreading and bringing the EU into line with the US, Israel and Canada.

The European Medicines Agency, using the shot's brand name, said "the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged 5 to 11 outweigh the risks".

Updated: November 25, 2021, 4:50 PM