More European countries, seeing record case spikes, embrace pediatric vaccines and tighter restrictions.
Officials in Spain said they would announce an outdoor mask mandate on Thursday, shortly after the country reported almost 50,000 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily total since the pandemic began. Catalonia, the northeastern region, is reintroducing on Friday a nighttime curfew, shuttering nightclubs and limiting gatherings to 10 people over the Christmas season.
Italy is making the country’s Covid health pass, a document that is required to work and to participate in many social activities, valid for just six months rather than nine; making masks mandatory outdoors; and banning parties or events, indoors or out, until the end of January.The country registered 44,595 new cases on Thursday — up from 33,600 on Wednesday — and 168 deaths.
Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said that the new decree was designed to counteract Omicron, a variant “with a significant capacity to increase contagion,” and would prevent unvaccinated people from entering museums, entertainment parks, exhibitions, and indoor bars and restaurants — ruling out even the Italian espresso traditionally drunk at the counter.
And Greece said on Thursday that masks would be required in all outdoor and indoor areas where they are not already mandatory, like gyms. Greece’s health minister also banned all public events until Jan. 3.
European officials hope that new restrictions and greater access to vaccines will blunt the latest rising wave of coronavirus cases reported in the days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s. Colder weather and holiday traditions are bringing people from different households together indoors, where health experts say the virus spreads most readily.
Vaccinations for children under 12 started last week in much of Europe. The French authorities said on Wednesday that they were making all children 5 to 11 eligible, and a vaccine advisory committee in Britain recommended inoculating children that age who are in certain risk groups.
Recent data from France suggests that unvaccinated children are helping drive the accelerating spread of the virus there. The incidence of infection among children aged 6 to 10 is now twice that for the population as a whole, according to a study published last week by the French health authorities. A similar pattern was seen in Italy, where schoolchildren and young adults account for the majority of recent cases, experts there said.
“Vaccination of children is a necessity,” Prime Minister Jean Castex of France said last month. “It was my 11-year-old daughter who gave me the virus a few weeks ago.”
France reported an average of 54,256 cases a day last week, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. About 73 percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
European nations like Germany, Greece and Spain already offer pediatric vaccination doses for younger children; so does the United States.
Other countries are also expanding access to vaccines. In Turkey, where the Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac vaccines are already in use, government officials granted emergency-use approval on Wednesday for a domestically developed Covid vaccine known as Turkovac.
And officials are weighing more mandates. Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy has said the country’s vaccine requirement for health care workers may be extended. And the Vatican said on Thursday that anyone who works in Vatican City must be vaccinated or have recovered from Covid; a negative test result will no longer be accepted as an alternative.
Reporting was contributed by Léontine Gallois, John Yoon, Yan Zhuang, Isabel Kershner, Raphael Minder and Patrick Kingsley.