Protests in Europe against Covid-19 lockdowns erupted into violence as a fourth wave of coronavirus sweeps across the continent.
Europe is experiencing a huge surge in case numbers from the Delta variant that is threatening its health systems as winter arrives, with potentially half a million deaths predicted, the World Health Organisation said.
Faced with at least a third lockdown since last year, many youths resorted to violent protest against new restrictions imposed to slow the spread.
In the Netherlands more than 50 people have been arrested and five police officers injured with officers at one point opening fire with live rounds on a crowd in Rotterdam.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, the city’s mayor, labelled the rioting an “orgy of violence” and said that "on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves”.
Dutch authorities also used water cannon, dogs and mounted police to stop youths who lit fires and threw fireworks in the worst disturbances
In Austria 40,000 people demonstrated against harsh restrictions being imposed on Monday morning as infection numbers spiral upwards, mainly because of the country’s poor vaccination uptake.
The government is the first European country to make it mandatory for all adults to be inoculated, sparking outrage among some far-right parties who held up banners in Vienna decrying “Corona dictatorship”.
Austria also banned all tourist visits to the country until at least until December 13 because of the 20-day lockdown.
The WHO said it was “very worried” about Europe’s infection rate. “Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region,” said Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director. He told the BBC that without urgent action there could be a further 500,000 deaths from coronavirus in Europe by March.
Thousands marched in Croatia and in Denmark, a thousand people demonstrated against plans to reinstate a Covid pass for civil servants at work. There is also growing anger in Italy over new restrictions.
In France a fifth wave of infections is rising at an alarming rate with new Covid cases nearly doubling in the past week to 17,000 a day.
“The fifth wave is starting at lightning speed,” a government spokesman said. “There is a very strong increase in infections, but we also know that in France we have a very large vaccination cover.”
As yet the surge has not led to an influx of hospital admissions, largely a result of the high vaccination rate, which appears effective against the Delta variant.
France has a Covid pass that must be shown in restaurants and elsewhere, with the government insisting that it will continue to enforce restrictions on non-vaccinated people
But it is Austria’s strict ruling that will be monitored closely by other countries in western Europe, especially Germany, which has recorded a fivefold increase in case numbers in the past month to almost 50,000 a day.
Despite the country having a high vaccination rate a booster campaign is rapidly required as immunity wanes.
Medical chiefs will want to follow Britain’s example where almost 15 million people, or 25 per cent of the adult population, have received a third dose.
With 88 per cent of over 12s having had at least a first vaccine, a leading doctor claimed that up to 500,000 lives have been saved by the drugs.
“If we just look at the UK, the predictions last year were that there would be between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths,” said Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped to make the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Britain, which has a more liberal approach to restrictions, will tomorrow (Monday) introduce second doses for 16-year-olds and boosters for the over 40s.
Despite having an average daily infection rate of more than 30,000 since July it has recorded a 28 per cent fall in hospital admissions of new Covid patients over 85 in the past fortnight.
Russia, where cases are averaging more than 37,000 a day with just 42 per cent of people vaccinated, has experienced two days of record Covid deaths – 1,254 on Saturday and 1,252 on Sunday.