Germany is in the grip of a “dramatic” fourth Covid-19 wave, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said on the eve of a crisis meeting with regional leaders.
Daily infections hit a new German record of 52,826 on Wednesday as European governments responded to a surge on much of the continent.
Belgium announced a series of measures in an attempt to avoid a lockdown.
“All the alarm signals are red,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, as he told people to limit personal contact.
“Europe’s map is quickly going red, and we are the same.”
Children in Belgium will have to wear masks from the age of 10, rather than the current age of 12. Working from home will become compulsory from Saturday for four days a week. Passes known as Covid Safe Tickets will be required in theatres, cinemas and museums.
A third booster vaccination will be rolled out for all Belgians by the end of April 2022.
Austria which imposed a lockdown on an estimated two million unvaccinated people on Monday, reported record daily infections on Wednesday. The Netherlands, which also reported record cases, has already brought in a partial lockdown.
Sweden is introducing a Covid vaccination pass from 1 December for the first time for concerts and other indoor events involving more than 100 people. “You who are unvaccinated cannot just carry on as normal; your most important contribution is to get vaccinated,” said Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren, who accepted the measure was tough but said Sweden was not isolated from the rest of the world.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said anyone who had not been vaccinated (or could show they had had recovered from Covid-19) would be banned from accessing public events or services. From Monday, negative tests would no longer be enough.
Neighbouring Slovakia, where a record 8,342 cases were reported on Wednesday, is planning similar measures: workplaces and non-essential shops will be accessible only to vaccinated staff or to people who could prove they have recovered, says Prime Minister Eduard Heger.
Vaccination rates vary across the continent. Slovak take-up is among the lowest in the EU at 44% while the Czech rate is 58%, in Austria it is 65% and in Germany 68%.
Both Germany and Austria have reported queues at vaccination centres, but they have some of the lowest take-up rates in Western Europe.
Austria also has a very high incidence rate of 971.5 cases per 100,000 people, far higher than Germany’s 319.5.
As well as its lockdown for the unvaccinated, some Austrian officials are calling for tighter restrictions for others too, such as a possible night-time curfew.Although Germany’s overall death toll is far lower than that in the UK, 294 deaths have been recorded in 24 hours and Mrs Merkel spoke of an emergency with intensive care beds filling up in hospitals. The UK reported another 201 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid on Wednesday, and a further 38,263 infections.
Mrs Merkel called for a faster booster drive, adding: “It’s not too late to decide to get a first vaccination.”
Many German regions are now only allowing vaccinated people access to most services, including bars, cafes, hairdressers and gyms.
Politically the situation is complicated as the outgoing Merkel government is set to be replaced by a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and pro-business liberals who aim to present planned Covid measures to parliament on Thursday.
France is being hit by a fifth wave of Covid-19, according to government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, with more than 20,000 new cases reported on Wednesday for the first time since Augusts. But there are no plans beyond the current Covid-19 passport as “we are coping better than previously thanks to the vaccines and the health pass”.
He said France was light years away from the situation a year ago, and anyone aged 50-64 could now make an appointment for a third Covid-19 vaccination.