The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Live Covid updates: Dutch government eases lockdown, but not for hospitality

Associated Press Saturday, 15 January 2022, 07:58 Last update: about 8 months ago

VALKENBURG, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch government eased its coronavirus lockdown Friday, allowing non-essential stores, universities, sports clubs and “contact businesses” like hairdressers to reopen for the first time in nearly a month.

But while many businesses can open Saturday until 5 p.m., bars, restaurants, museums and theaters will remain shut as COVID-19 cases rise steeply.

“I understand very well that it feels completely unfair after all those long months of closure and after all that effort to open safely," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said about anger in the hospitality industry.

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The discontent led shops, bars and restaurants in a southern Dutch town to open earlier Friday in a protest action that underscored growing anger at weeks of coronavirus lockdown measures.

Locals flocked to eat and drink at outdoor tables of restaurants in the main street of Valkenburg in open defiance of a lockdown in the Netherlands. Authorities in the tourist town, which was devastated by flooding last year, didn't take action to enforce coronavirus restrictions.

“It’s very difficult, it doesn’t feel fair at the moment. The first few lockdowns were logical, I agreed with them, but it doesn’t feel fair any more,” said Didi Corten, who opened the outdoor terrace of Brasserie America for the day.

“After the flooding, we want to open again very soon because otherwise I’m afraid a lot of businesses will not survive,” she added. “It can’t go on like this.”

More towns in the region were planning similar protest openings on Saturday.

The country has been in a tough lockdown since Dec. 18 in a move the government says is aimed at “buying time” to ease pressure on overburdened hospitals and ramp up the vaccine booster program.

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PRAGUE (AP) — The new Czech government will allow some workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus to stay on the job, in an extraordinary measure to ease possible staff shortages caused by an anticipated surge of the omicron variant.

Health Minister Vlastimil Valek said Friday the measure, which was also used during previous coronavirus surges, would only apply to workers in health care and nursing homes who have no symptoms of COVID-19.

Valek said it would be used only when absolutely necessary, amid strict safeguards to prevent such workers from infecting other people. Further conditions will be set by health authorities.

New infections in the Czech Republic had been declining since a record high in late November, but started increasing again last week. The highly infectious omicron variant is now dominant in the country.

The Health Ministry has said daily infections could reach 50,000 later this month, far exceeding a record of almost 28,000 on Nov 25.

The Czech Republic has reported almost 2.6 million confirmed infections and 36,799 deaths.

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — More than two thirds of Poland’s COVID-19 medical advisory body resigned Friday saying the government was not heeding their advice in its response to the pandemic.

In a statement, 13 of the board’s 17 members said that with “growing frustration” they were experiencing a “lack of political possibilities to introduce the optimal and globally tested methods of fighting the pandemic."

They also complained of a “growing tolerance” in the government for state officials playing down the threat of the pandemic or the need for vaccination.

The mass resignation comes days after a regional education official drew criticism for describing vaccination against COVID-19 as an “experiment.” The right-wing government has ignored calls for her dismissal.

In a letter to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, outgoing board members said “very limited action” was taken during the fall surge and against the ongoing threat from the fast-spreading omicron variant, “despite an expected huge number of deaths.”

Morawiecki's office responded saying that in its decisions the government had to take into account various differing opinions coming also from businesspeople, educators and others. It said the formula of the advisory body will be changed, but gave no details.

In response to an infection surge due to omicron, Poland’s government has introduced restrictions on access to indoor public areas, but avoided a lockdown or outdoor mask mandate.

Poland has recorded more than 100,000 virus-related deaths, and less than 60% of the 38 million population is vaccinated.

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian government on Friday chose to delay adopting unpopular legislation restricting access to public places for the unvaccinated, despite an infection surge and warnings from top officials about the spread of the omicron variant.

The country reported 23,820 new infections, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths. Moscow officials also reported 729 confirmed omicron variant cases in the capital since Dec. 20, and Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said 783 cases have been confirmed all across Russia.

Golikova said the legislation was postponed due to the “high uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally prepared in response to the delta variant but “new challenges” have arisen.

The bill required Russians willing to access certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19, or a medical exemption from immunization.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for both domestic and international planes and trains, was met with high resistance amid a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The transport bill was withdrawn from parliament last month, but the one on public places passed the first reading.

Golikova said the bill will be amended to allow Russians with negative tests to get short-term QR codes.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has administered a 4th vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people, the Health Ministry said Friday.

Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone over 60.

Authorities hope the additional boosters will blunt a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. Health Ministry figures show Israel currently has some 250,000 active cases. But only 317 patients are listed as seriously ill, far fewer than during previous waves.

“Israel’s trailblazing vaccine campaign has reached another milestone," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. "Thank you to the half a million Israelis who got the fourth dose of the COVID vaccine and in so doing, help to keep us all safer.”

Israel was among the first countries to roll out vaccines a year ago and began widely offering third doses last summer in a bid to contain the delta variant. Nearly half the population has received at least one booster shot.

The country of nearly 9.5 million has reported 8,298 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Children in Romania aged between 5-11 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 starting late January, authorities said, as the country grappled Friday with a virus surge and low adult vaccination rates.

Parents or legal guardians can schedule appointments starting this week to get their children inoculated with Pfizer jabs that will be available from Jan. 26, the national vaccination committee said Thursday.

Health authorities said 219 pediatric vaccination centers are configured in the national programming platform and shots can also be administered without appointments at dedicated centers, and in some general practitioners' surgeries. The jabs will be administered in 21-day intervals.

Romania, a European Union country of around 19.5 million, has the second-lowest vaccination rate against COVID-19 in the 27-nation bloc, with just 48% of adults fully inoculated, compared to the EU average of 80%. Many other EU countries have already launched vaccination programs for children under 12.

Despite assistance from the bloc's Commission in December to help Romania launch a media campaign to stimulate its vaccination rate, the daily jab uptake has remained low at around 25,000 over the last week.

 

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