France has recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic and COVID-19 hospitalisations have doubled over the past month, as the fast-spreading Omicron variant complicates the French government’s efforts to stave off a new lockdown.
More than 1 in 100 people in the Paris region have tested positive in the past week, according to the regional health service.
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Most new infections are linked to the Omicron variant, which government experts predict will be dominant in France in the coming days.
Omicron is already dominant in Britain, right across the Channel.
Meanwhile a surge in Delta variant infections in recent months is pushing up hospital admissions in France, and put ICUs under strain again over the Christmas holidays.
More than 1000 people in France with the virus died over the past week, bringing the country’s overall death toll to more than 122,000.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government is holding emergency meetings on Monday to discuss the next steps in tackling the virus.
Some scientists and educators have urged delaying the post-holiday return to school, or suggested re-imposing a curfew.
But France’s education minister says schools should open as usual on January 3.
In neighbouring Belgium, the government imposed new measures starting on Sunday that ordered cultural venues like movie theatres and concert halls to close.
Some venues defied the ban, and thousands of performers, event organisers and others demonstrated on Sunday in Brussels against the decision, carrying signs reading “The Show Must Go On” or “No Culture No Future.”
They accuse the Belgian government of double standards because it allowed Christmas markets, with their boisterous crowds and mulled wine drinking, to stay open, along with restaurants and bars.
Even the scientific committee advising the Belgian government had not asked for the culture industry closures, leaving virologist Marc Van Ranst to ponder that, in Belgium, “gluhwein beat culture.”
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, the Dutch government has gone farther than most European countries and shut down all non-essential stores, restaurants and bars and extended the school holidays in a partial new lockdown.
In Britain, where the omicron variant has been dominant for days, government requirements have been largely voluntary and milder than those on the continent, but the Conservative government said it could impose new restrictions after Christmas.
The UK hit a new high of 122,186 daily infections on Friday, but did not report figures for Christmas.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland imposed new restrictions on Sunday on socialising, mainly limiting the size of gatherings, moves that the restaurant, pub and nightclub industries have described as economically devastating.