Europe braces for more restrictions as omicron infections rise

File image of a medical specialist holding the hand of a patient suffering from COVID-19 in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the toxicology and sepsis clinic at Riga East Clinical University Hospital in Riga, Latvia. October 29, 2021. REUTERS / Janis Laizans / Archive

Por Conor Humphries y Clara-Laeila Laudette

DUBLIN / MADRID, Dec 16 (Reuters) – European countries were preparing on Friday to impose new travel restrictions and other measures, in an effort to stem the rise in cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which threatens to paralyze the world economic recovery.

Germany, Ireland and Denmark are considering imposing new restrictions in the days leading up to the Christmas holidays, following in the footsteps of France, which closed its borders this week to most non-resident Britons.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that in the face of a “cruel virus” the government had no choice but to consider unpopular measures, such as closing bars and restaurants earlier.

“We all feel anger, frustration, dismay, depression, but that cannot detract us from making the right decisions to keep our people safe,” he said on Twitter.

Under the rules, which could be announced later on Friday, travelers to Germany from the UK would have to be quarantined for two weeks, a spokesman for the German Health Ministry said.

The uncertainty about the impact that the rapid spread of omicron will have on the global economic recovery was reflected in the divergent paths taken by major central banks this week.

The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-expansive monetary policy on Friday, although it cut emergency funding due to the pandemic.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, said that the tightening of containment measures to stop the spread of omicron “could delay the recovery” and the ECB did not go so far as to point out a rapid reduction in support programs due to the pandemic.

Instead, the Bank of England, which battles high inflation, raised rates, becoming the first G7 economy to do so since the pandemic began. The US Federal Reserve, also concerned about prices, pointed to tightening plans for next year.

The omicron variant has seen infections in Britain approach the highs of early 2021, although hospitalizations and deaths remain much lower. Other European countries and the United States have also seen infections skyrocket in December.

Since the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, about two years ago, more than 5 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide and more than 272 million cases have been reported.

(Report from Reuters offices; Edited in Spanish by Javier López de Lérida)

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