Several countries are considering further restrictions to add to the mix of lockdowns and other measures already in place across Europe.
The chief infectious disease expert in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned Monday that with the emergence of highly contagious Omicron, “it will get worse before it gets better.”
“We don’t expect things to change in a few days to a week,” he told ABC. “It’s probably going to take a lot longer than that, but it’s unpredictable.”
It is this unpredictability that makes governments reluctant to speculate and select widely diverse strategies to overcome the pandemic.
The French government and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been evaluating the latest data and the need to confront record numbers of Covid-19 infections with more measures to keep people away from each other, at a time when they desperately want to be together.
But with indications that Omicron may be a milder species, despite its extraordinary ability to infect people, politicians have been in a dilemma over whether to spoil another party or play it safe to make sure healthcare systems don’t collapse.
Complicating matters further is the lack of full data over the Christmas holiday weekend, which makes it difficult to pinpoint Omicron’s path.
In Belgium, residents faced their first real test, with a new set of measures in place on Monday.
Shopping in large groups has been banned, cinemas and concert halls closed while countless families are vacationing at the same time.
Calls to close theaters and arts centers have drawn particular criticism.
“We also need it for our mental health,” said Michael de Koek, artistic director of the Royal Flemish Theatre. “It is the only way for people to live experiences, to tell stories. It is important to be open in these difficult and complex times.”
Some cinemas have remained open as part of civil disobedience, and police, who have already expanded their reach during the festive season, have said they cannot force everyone to close.
Popular festivities such as New Year’s fireworks, which usually draw crowds of thousands in Brussels, have ceased.
Nightclubs are already closed, while restaurants and bars must close at 11pm.
In Britain, there are similar steps ahead, with Scotland planning to close its nightclubs on Monday.
That’s what Northern Ireland and Wales did on Sunday, although they remain open in England.
Johnson, who opposed the imposition of new restrictions but did not rule them out, was expected to be briefed today on the latest data on the spread of the omicron mutant.
Even a staple of Britain’s holiday celebrations, the intensification of Premier League soccer matches, is under threat.
The Football League has canceled 15 games in the past two and a half weeks, and more could follow.
And the number of daily injuries in Britain recorded a new high, reaching 122,186 injuries on Friday, but there were no figures during the long Christmas weekend.
France recorded more than 100,000 infections in one day for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and the number of people with corona who were hospitalized doubled over the past month.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government decided to hold emergency meetings on Monday to discuss its next steps.
The government hopes that the intensification of vaccinations will be sufficient. The government is pushing a bill that would require residents to be vaccinated so they can enter all restaurants and many public places in place of the current health pass system that allows people to submit a negative test or proof of recovery if they are not vaccinated.
This gradual, hesitant approach is often seen in much of Europe. In Poland, a country of 38 million people where the daily death toll now often exceeds 500, closed nightclubs will be allowed to reopen on New Year’s Eve, with the government unwilling to oppose many voters who reject restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.
In Italy, the government has not imposed any restrictions on private gatherings but has banned outdoor events on New Year’s Eve and closed nightclubs until the end of January.
The Netherlands went further than the rest of Europe, closing all non-essential shops, restaurants and bars and extending school holidays with a new partial closure.