Belgian police use tear gas on anti-restriction protesters

Countries tighten restrictions to deal with the new wave

A man walks past a fire during a demonstration against the Belgian government's measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19. Photo: AFP
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Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse rioting anti-vaccine protesters as the newest coronavirus wave hits Europe and the Omicron mutation disrupts government plans.

More protests have taken place in major cities, including Vienna, as countries tighten restrictions to deal with the new wave and others, including France, keep a close eye on rising cases and hospital admissions.

Omicron cases have now been registered in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Norway. The variant is expected to spread further.

About 8,000 people marched through Brussels on Sunday towards the headquarters of the EU, chanting "Freedom!" and setting off fireworks.

As two drones and a helicopter circled overhead, protesters threw fireworks and beer cans. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas.

There were further clashes as the crowd dispersed into smaller groups. Police said two officers and four protesters needed hospital treatment, and 20 people were arrested.

Protesters and riot police clash in Belgium. Photo: AFP

In Vienna, about 40,000 people demonstrated on Saturday against new restrictions. Several thousand also rallied in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, and Frankfurt, Germany.

Germany and Austria are moving towards making vaccines obligatory.

The demonstrators oppose compulsory health measures, from masks to lockdowns and vaccine passes. But some share conspiracy theories and compare the stigmatisation of the non-vaccinated to the treatment of Jews forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany.

In Belgium, there was a third week of tightening restrictions when Prime Minister Alexander De Croo ordered schools to close early for Christmas and expanded requirements for masks, while reducing capacity to 200 for indoor events.

Belgium reported a weekly average of 17,862 new daily cases, a rise of six per cent over the previous week, with hospital admissions up four per cent.

Italy is making life more uncomfortable for unvaccinated people, excluding them from indoor restaurants, theatres and museums to reduce the spread of coronavirus and encourage vaccine take up.

From Monday, Italian police can check whether diners in restaurants have a ‘super’ green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered.

French health experts are meeting on Monday to decide if any new lockdown measures are needed.

There were 42,252 new cases confirmed on Sunday, and 51,624 on Saturday. The average of new daily cases stands at 42,459, against less than 28,000 a week ago.

Danish health authorities are also concerned after 183 new confirmed Omicron cases, triple the number on Friday.

Updated: December 06, 2021, 9:48 AM