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France brings in face masks as Europe battles Omicron ‘tidal wave’



Countries in Europe are seeing record-high numbers of Covid-19 infections as the highly transmissable Omicron variant races across the continent, prompting governments to consider reimposing restrictions.

Spain hit the highest number of infections on Wednesday since the pandemic broke out in March last year with 100,760 cases. The number of patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19, however, is comparatively low at 7.69 per cent, El Mundo reports.

Yet despite the record numbers and long queues outside pharmacies as test demand outstrips supply, the Spanish government has decided to loosen self-isolation rules so people only need to quarantine for seven days rather than 10.

Infections have soared to a record high in Italy with 98,030 new daily cases recorded on Wednesday. But amid concerns over a labour shortage caused by an increasing number of people in quarantine, Italy too has relaxed its rules so that self-isolation for those who have come into contact with a positive case – and who have had a booster – has been scrapped.

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France is seeing a “dizzying” rise in new Covid daily cases as they hit 208,000 on Wednesday, a new national and European record. As a result, wearing face masks outside will become compulsory in Paris as of Friday, health authorities have announced.

“I wouldn’t call Omicron a wave anymore, I would call it a tidal wave,” French Health Minister Olivier Véran told politicians on Wednesday.

The face mask mandate will apply to all those aged 11 and over but those inside vehicles, cyclists, users of two-wheeled transport like scooters and those doing sport are not required to wear one, Paris police headquarters said in a statement.

Denmark hit 23,228 daily new cases on Wednesday, up 44 per cent on the previous record, according to statistics by Statens Serum Institut seen by Bloomberg.

Restrictions were reintroduced last week to stem the soaring number of infections, including a negative test for all those travelling to the country, regardless of their vaccination status.

That while an estimated 600 people arriving from Denmark were denied entry in Sweden as they failed to comply with the newly introduced requirement, effective on Wednesday, to show a negative test. The rule, however, does not apply to Swedish nationals and residents.

In the Netherlands, which is halfway through its tight lockdown where all non-essential businesses are shut, Omicron has become the dominant variant, accounting for 80 per cent of cases. The lockdown, which was imposed on 19 December, will last till 14 January.

Portugal reported a new record of 26,867 coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours on Wednesday, up sharply from 17,172 the previous day, although daily deaths dropped to a fraction of early 2021 peaks.

Health Minister Marta Temido warned on Tuesday that the country could reach as many as 37,000 daily cases in the first week of January, although recently imposed restrictions should have a dampening effect.

Before Christmas, the government ordered nightclubs and bars to close and told people to work from home for at least two weeks.

Omicron has been spreading at a much faster rate than any other variant, but early data shows the risk of hospitalisation due to severe illness is reduced.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director general, nonetheless warned: “Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths.

“I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.”

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