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COVID in Europe: Portuguese hospital worker tests positive for Omicron as new measures start

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
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A worker wipes the floor by the pediatric emergency entrance at the Hospital Garcia de Orta in Almada, south of Lisbon, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.
A worker wipes the floor by the pediatric emergency entrance at the Hospital Garcia de Orta in Almada, south of Lisbon, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Armando Franca

A hospital worker in Portugal tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron, forcing the paediatric services unit to close.

The worker had been in contact with members of a Portuguese football club where there were at least 13 cases of the new, concerning variant of coronavirus that was first identified in South Africa.

The hospital said it will close both emergency and outpatient paediatric services for two weeks even though staff in contact with the hospital worker tested negative for the virus.

New virus restrictions entered into force in Portugal from midnight as the country works to contain a new surge in cases.

A digital certificate proving vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 must be shown to enter restaurants, cinemas and hotels. Face masks will also be mandatory once again.

Germany's next chancellor supports COVID vaccine mandate

Germany's next chancellor, social democrat Olaf Scholz, said he would support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

But, he said, that lawmakers should be able to vote on the issue.

“We will pave the way for a decision of conscience by members of the German Bundestag about a general vaccine mandate that will come into force next year, in February or early March, and which everybody can get ready for now," Scholz said.

“I will vote in favour of such a law," he added.

Greece to fine over-60s for refusing jab

Residents in Greece over the age of 60 will be fined €100 a month if they fail to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, under the first general COVID-19 mandate announced by the country’s government.

The measure was announced in response to a surge in cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant. It will come into effect on January 16 with the fines to be added to their tax bills, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised announcement on Tuesday.

Greece’s death toll exceeded 18,000 this week with confirmed infections at record levels, as roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population remains unvaccinated.

Vaccination mandates were introduced over the summer for health care workers and fire service rescuers, with those failing to comply being suspended from their jobs indefinitely without pay.

The government has ruled out imposing new lockdowns but says it is targeting the elderly with tougher restrictions to protect the public health service as ICU occupancy is near capacity nationwide.

“The new Omicron variant is a concern for us and means we must be vigilant,” Mitsotakis said.

“Unfortunately, of the 580,000 unvaccinated of our fellow citizens over the age of 60, only 60,000 set up appointments to get vaccinated in November,” he said. “But it is mainly people over 60 who require hospital treatment and sadly lose their life. These deaths are unnecessary.”

'Worsening' situation in France

French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday warned that the sanitary situation in the country "is worsening".

During an address to lawmakers, he said that 47,000 new infections had been confirmed over the previous 24 hours and that it represents "an increase in the spread of the virus on the national territory."

The number of daily new cases has been over 30,000 for a week when it was under 23,000 a week ago and 15,000 two weeks ago.

"If we continue this dynamic," Véran said, the number of new infections could be "higher than the peak of the third wave by the end of week."

Veran urged people to get vaccinated and receive their booster shot, especially given the potential threat of the new variant, Omicron, which is believed to be more transmissible than other variants and potentially more resistant to treatment.

French authorities have reported their first confirmed case of the Omicron variant on the island of La Réunion and Véran stressed that "other cases could be identified in the coming hours."

France has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe with nearly 70% of its population now fully vaccinated.

Since Saturday, booster shots have been available for all adults over the age of 18. On Tuesday, the country's High Authority for Health (HAS) meanwhile recommended that vaccination for children from five to 11 that are either vulnerable or have regular contact with vulnerable adults.

The HAS noted that they represent "an age group little affected by symptomatic forms (of COVID-19) that has seen a very sharp increase in incidence in recent weeks."

UK to increase number of vaccination centres

British authorities on Tuesday confirmed an additional eight cases of Omicron — taking the total tally so far to 22.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a press conference in the afternoon that the government plans to offer a booster shot to all those eligible by the end of January.

“There will be temporary vaccination centres popping up like Christmas trees," the prime minister said.

Across England there will be more than 1,500 community pharmacy sites giving out jabs, and extra hospital hubs on top of those already active. Some 400 military personnel will also be deployed to assist in the efforts, Johnson said.

More than 88% of the country's population over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated.

On Saturday, following the announcement that two cases of omicron had been detected in the country, Johnson had tightened entry rules into the country as well as face-covering requirements in shops and on public transport.