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COVID in Europe: France to scrap face masks and vaccine passes on 14 March

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
A woman wears a facemask outside a cinema in Paris.
A woman wears a facemask outside a cinema in Paris.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Thibault Camus

The number of new coronavirus cases reported globally dropped by 16% in the last week, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO also said in its weekly conference that deaths due to COVID-19 had fallen by 10% globally.

A number of countries in Europe -- including Denmark, Sweden, and the UK -- have already lifted all COVID-19 restrictions, as vaccination rates continue to climb.

But the WHO has repeated that it is too early to declare the pandemic over and warned that the coronavirus could still mutate into more dangerous variants if it is allowed to continue spreading.

Here is our summary of the latest pandemic situation across the continent.

France to abolish facemasks and vaccine passes

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday that the country would soon remove further COVID-19 restrictions.

From 14 March, face masks would only be required on public transport while vaccine health passes would not be needed to enter most venues.

Proof of vaccination will still be needed to enter French hospitals, health centres, and retirement homes, Castex added.

The vaccine pass was introduced in France on 24 January amid a surge in coronavirus cases, due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

But the country has slowly eased measures as infection rates continue to fall following the winter spike.

"The situation is improving thanks to our collective efforts, thanks to the measures we have taken," the French Prime Minister told TF1.

"The conditions are right for a new phase of easing measures," he added.

On Wednesday, France recorded 53,152 new COVID-19 infections, compared to more than 70,000 one week earlier.

The pressure is also easing on the hospitals, where just 2,329 people are in critical care, according to official figures.

Austria's health minister resigns over pandemic threats

Wolfgang Mückstein has resigned as Austria's health minister, stating that he is no longer able to carry out the role.

"In recent weeks I can't give 100 per cent," Mückstein told a press conference in Vienna on Thursday.

The 47-year-old was only appointed as health minister last April but says he and his family have received constant threats during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's not bearable for long that you can't leave the house without police protection," he said, adding that the situation was "extremely stressful".

According to the Austrian news agency APA, Mückstein will be replaced by another Green party MP Johannes Rauch.

The previous Austrian health minister Rudolf Anschober also resigned saying his role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic had left him "exhausted".

Turkey relaxes mask mandate amid a drop in cases

Turkish authorities have lifted a requirement to wear facemasks in open-air or ventilated spaces, where social distancing can be maintained.

But Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said citizens would be required to continue wearing masks on planes, buses, and trains as well as in theatres, cinemas, hospitals, and school classrooms.

But Turkey has also stopped shutting down classes when two or more students have tested positive for the virus.

Only those people who are displaying symptoms would now be tested for COVID-19, Koca told reporters.

The easing of restrictions comes amid a decline in coronavirus infections and hospitalisations, according to official figures.

But some physicians have warned that cases in Turkey are still high and not enough people have been fully vaccinated. By Wednesday, around 85% of the adult Turkish population has received two doses of a COVID-19 jab.

Spain exceeds 100,000 coronavirus deaths, says ministry

Spain has passed the grim 100,000 mark in deaths from COVID-19, the Health Ministry announced on Wednesday.

The EU member state was one of the worst hit by the first wave of the pandemic in Europe in 2020.

But authorities have since launched a vaccination campaign that has seen more than 91% of people aged over-12s fully inoculated.

Although Spain was also hit by a surge in Omicron cases earlier this year, the number of deaths and hospitalisations remained relatively low.

On Wednesday, the health ministry stated that it recorded 154 new deaths and 18,803 new cases in the previous 24 hours.

The Spanish government began easing anti-virus measures in December, before lifting all restrictions last month amid an improving situation.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday that facemasks could "very soon" no longer be mandatory indoors.