European countries have crossed the danger threshold for a new wave of Covid-19 infections in Europe, forcing the Netherlands to impose a partial lockdown and Germany to warn its people new restrictions are on the way.
Lothar Wieler, president of Germany's public health body the Robert Koch Institute, told a news conference that certain mass events should be banned and new vaccine and testing measures rolled out.
With daily infections now running at about 50,000, the country could see a sharp increase in hospital admissions to levels unseen so far in the pandemic.
“It's five past twelve,” Mr Wieler said, holding up a deep red heat map of infections across Germany. He said he expected to see 2,800 coronavirus patients in hospital soon.
The daily death toll was on track to reach 200, he said.
While the medics want to suspend big events, governments are so far relying on vaccine passports or evidence of a clear test for access to venues.
Germany is also reintroducing free Covid-19 tests from Saturday, acting health minister Jens Spahn said at the same press conference.
“The situation is serious,” Mr Spahn said. “We have to do everything necessary to break this dynamic or it will be a bitter December for the whole country.”
Germany is joined by its neighbours in bringing back controls.
The Netherlands government announced a partial lockdown on Friday, amid soaring Covid-19 cases that are putting the country’s healthcare sector under renewed strain.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised address that restaurants and shops will be required close early and spectators will be barred from major sporting events.
The stricter measures will be imposed for three weeks.
“Tonight, we are bringing a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching measures,” Mr Rutte said.
“The virus is everywhere and needs to be combated everywhere.”
Supermarkets and non-essential retailers will close earlier and social distancing measures will be reimposed. There should also be no more than four visitors at home.
Mr Rutte said the government was also exploring ways to limit unvaccinated people's access to public spaces after the lockdown period.
The move comes a day after the country’s public health institute recorded 16,364 new positive tests in 24 hours – the highest number of any time during the pandemic that has killed more than 18,600 people in the Netherlands.
Last week, the government reintroduced orders to wear face masks in stores and expanded use of the country’s Covid-19 pass, which proves the holder has been fully vaccinated, has recovered from the virus or has tested negative.
Since then, cases have increased.
The outbreak has gathered pace, even though 85 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, compared with 70 per cent in Germany. The country largely ended lockdown restrictions at the end of September.
Norway also announced a new clampdown. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the country would reintroduce its Covid-19 health pass amid a rise in new infections.
On Friday, Denmark started requiring attendees to use a Covid-19 passport at larger events, such as concerts and trade fairs, as well as in restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.
Austria on Thursday said it was days away from placing millions of unvaccinated people in lockdown.
Around two in three of Austria's population are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the lowest vaccination rate of any major western European country.
In Germany, Mr Wieler said the virus was becoming endemic and so the only response was to reduce interaction, wear a mask and maintain social distancing.
He also advised the country should look to minimise “super-spreader” events. “We have deleted the word herd immunity from our lexicon,” he said. “Reduce your contacts.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said he was cautious about rising cases of Covid in Europe, warning of gathering “storm clouds” of a new wave of coronavirus infections.
Britain has had much higher rates of Covid-19 than the rest of western Europe since the summer when Mr Johnson scrapped coronavirus restrictions in England.
However, rates in Britain are now coming down, just as they are rising sharply on the continent.
“I'm seeing the storm clouds gathering over parts of the European continent. And I've got to be absolutely frank with people: we've been here before. We remember what happens when the wave starts rolling in,” Mr Johnson said in a broadcast, referring to previous waves of infections.
Mr Johnson has said he aims to navigate winter without locking down the economy, having done so three times previously in response to rising cases. He is instead relying on Covid booster shots for the elderly and vulnerable.