This content is not available in your region

COVID in Europe: France and Switzerland ease coronavirus restrictions

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with AP, AFP
euronews_icons_loading
People walk on a street in Vienna, Austria
People walk on a street in Vienna, Austria   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, File

More European countries have announced an easing of COVID-19 restrictions as high infection rates stabilise.

On Wednesday, Switzerland became the latest European country to ease measures, including ending health checks for incoming travellers.

From Thursday, masks and COVID-19 vaccination passes will no longer be required to enter shops, restaurants, cultural venues and other public settings and events.

The requirement to wear masks in workplaces and capacity limits on large-scale gatherings will also end.

“The epidemiological situation continues to develop positively,” the Federal Council said.

“Thanks to the high level of immunity among the population, it is unlikely that the health care system will be overburdened despite the continued high level of virus circulation.”

Nightclubs in France also reopened for the first time in three months on Wednesday, while customers in bars and cafes will be allowed to eat and drink while standing.

Health minister Olivier Véran also said that all remaining mask rules could be lifted and the requirement for vaccine passes “significantly eased” next month.

France and Italy had last week eased anti-COVID measures by removing the obligation to wear masks outside.

Meanwhile, Austria's government said on Wednesday that it plans to end most of the country’s COVID-19 measures on March 5.

From Saturday, citizens will be able to attend events and enter bars, restaurants, and hairdressers if they are vaccinated, have recently recovered from infection, or have proof of a negative test result.

Nightclubs will then reopen next month, while restaurants will be able to open beyond midnight, Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced.

However, facemasks will still be mandatory in certain places to "protect vulnerable groups," he added. Hospital workers, nursing home staff, and visitors will also still need at least proof of negative test.

Austria recently became the first European country to introduce a nationwide vaccine mandate for adults. The measure will be enforced by police in mid-March.

The Alpine countries follow the Netherlands, which said on Tuesday that it would lift most COVID-19 restrictions from February 25.

Bars and restaurants will soon return to pre-pandemic opening hours, and people will no longer be required to wear masks in most public places.

The government warned however that the pandemic was still not over and that vulnerable people needed to be prudent.

Dutch authorities have also been criticised by an independent inquiry for being "inadequately prepared" for the pandemic and its impact on care homes.

Portugal's government has also said that it will lift some restrictions in the coming days if approved by the country's President.

Health passes may no longer be required to enter restaurants and hotels, government spokesperson Mariana Vieira da Silva told a press conference on Thursday.

Customers will also not need a negative COVID test to enter bars and nightclubs, she added. But people will still need to wear facemasks in indoor spaces, such as on public transport or in supermarkets.

"This is a very important moment," Vieira da Silva said, "this is another step towards a return to normal life."

The Portuguese government has also set a target for lifting all COVID-19 restrictions once the country falls "below 20 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants".

Germany plans to remove most restrictions in March

The German government meanwhile has planned to phase out most of its anti-COVID restrictions from March 20.

Restrictions on unvaccinated citizens could be eased or abolished, although face masks could remain compulsory on public transport and indoors.

In a first step of easing measures, the maximum vaccinated capacity allowed at private gatherings could increase from 10 to 20, according to a government plan unveiled on Monday.

Restaurants and hotels could also welcome more guests from 4 March, while nightclubs and music venues could also reopen.

The number of new infections in Germany has decreased by 20% compared to the previous week, with 76,465 new daily cases reported on Monday.

“The peak has now probably been reached,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday.

Germany's Constitutional Court last week rejected efforts to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers. Staff in nursing homes, hospitals and private health centres will have to prove by March 15 that they have been vaccinated against the virus or face a ban on working.

The measure -- which was approved by the German parliament in December -- has generated backlash from dozens of medical workers. Bavaria's regional government voted to scrap the measure, led by the conservative CDU opposition.

Germany is also currently debating a nationwide vaccine mandate that would come into force in October.

Sweden recommends fourth jab for the elderly

Swedish health authorities have recommended a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to citizens aged over 80 years.

Nursing homes residents or those receiving home care are also encouraged to get a fourth jab, as long as it is at least four months after their last dose.

Sweden's chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell stated that a fourth vaccine ”strengthens the protection” against severe disease, according to the Swedish Public Health Agency.

Last week, Sweden lifted almost all of its anti-Covid restrictions and halted wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even among people showing symptoms of an infection.

Among the other changes, bars and restaurants are longer required to close at 23:00 and the rules on gatherings will be eased.

Vaccination passes will no longer be required to enter public venues, while the recommendation to wear a mask on public transport during busy periods has also been removed.

"The pandemic is not over, but we are entering a whole new phase… knowledge has improved… several studies show that Omicron leads to less severe disease," said Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

Even though the Omicron variant has caused a spike in infections, it has not translated into an increase in hospitalisations in Sweden. More than 83% of the population over 12 years old have received two doses of vaccine to date, and just under 50% have had three doses.

If "the overall assessment shows that we can start to return to normal", the government "will continue to be vigilant as to the evolution of the pandemic", said Swedish Health Minister Lena Hallengren.

Some recommendations remain in place for the unvaccinated – such as avoiding indoor crowds.

Neighbouring Denmark became the first EU country to lift almost all coronavirus restrictions, while also considering whether to "wind down" the country’s coronavirus vaccination programme.

“The very high vaccine coverage in Denmark, especially with the third shot, means that we can cope with the increasing infection without getting serious illness,” the Danish Health Authority said in a statement.

Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Cyprus' health ministry says it will lift a number of restrictions on unvaccinated citizens later this month after COVID-19 cases levelled off in recent days.

From next week, citizens would no longer need to be vaccinated to enter bars, restaurants, theatres, hotels, or sports venues.

But health minister Michalis Hadjipantela said that customers would still have a show a valid COVID-19 rapid test taken within the previous 24 hours.

The maximum number of people permitted at various venues and private gatherings would also be increased, he added.

Meanwhile, people in the Czech Republic no longer have to show COVID passes to gain access to bars, restaurants, cafes and hairdressers, as well sports and cultural events. It comes after the Czech government moved forward last week with easing coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said his government will lift further measures this month, depending on the development of the pandemic, with the majority of restrictions removed by March 1.

Czech Health Minister Vlastimil Valek said that -- from Saturday -- up to 5,000 people will now be allowed to attend concerts and sports competitions, up from the current 1,000.

The government had previously decided to end mandatory coronavirus testing at schools and companies.

Elsewhere, Slovakia is planning to gradually ease most coronavirus restrictions as hospitals appear to be coping despite a current record surge of infections.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Wednesday that -- by the end of the month -- people will have access to stores, shopping centres, various public gatherings and services, including bars and restaurants, without any restrictions.

“We have to learn how to live with COVID,” Heger said. “We have an efficient tool to protect ourselves, and that’s the vaccine.”