COVID in Europe: New Russian case record as Portugal eases travel rules

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Russia reported its highest ever daily tally of new COVID cases on Sunday.

A total of 180,071 cases were confirmed by the state Coronavirus Task Force — 2,800 more than recorded the previous day.

The surge observed since mid-January, when just about 17,000 new cases were reported, is being blamed on the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Yet the daily death toll is holding steady with 661 deaths recorded over the previous 24 hours, compared with 796 on Jan. 6. The Task Force has so far deplored the death of 335,414 people.

President Vladimir Putin said last week that his government is considering loosening some coronavirus restrictions, despite the soaring infections.

In recent weeks, a growing number of Russian regions have started introducing restrictions for those under 18, as officials noted that the current surge affects children much more than the previous ones. In many areas, schools have either switched to remote learning or extended holidays for students. In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, minors have been temporarily barred from most public places.

Russia started vaccinating children aged 12-17 only last month with the domestically developed Sputnik M jab, which is the same as Sputnik V but contains a smaller dose. According to media reports and social media users, only small amounts of vaccine for teenagers have been made available.

Only about half of Russia’s 146-million population has been vaccinated so far, even though the country was among the first in the world to roll out COVID-19 shots.

Austria’s vaccine mandate

Meanwhile, a new law making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory for all residents above 18 years of age has come into effect in Austria.

This unprecedented move from an EU member state means that anyone not abiding by the new law may face a hefty fine from Saturday. Checks are expected to start from mid-March.

Around 72% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated — a figure below other European countries, like France, Portugal or Spain.

Michael Hausmann, head of operations at Samariterbund, a Vienna-based aid organisation, says that his centre is now currently “vaccinating about 7000 people a day on average”. Hausmann added that they had a slight increase of about 9% compared to last week.

Portugal eases travel rules

Portugal, which has the EU’s highest vaccination rate with 83.3% of its entire population now fully vaccinated, will ease restrictions on travellers with an EU health certificate from Monday.

Travellers in “possession of an EU digital Covid certificate” or any other “recognised proof of vaccination” will be exempted from presenting a negative test on arrival in the country, according to the government decision.

The EU digital Covid certificate attests to either a vaccine, test or recovery from Covid-19 infection less than six months old.

Like other European countries, Portugal had required since the beginning of December that passengers over 12 years old, even if vaccinated against COVID-19, present negative tests to enter the country.

This new decision by the Portuguese government follows European recommendations to better coordinate rules for travel within the EU and to avoid imposing restrictions on holders of a European health certificate, as some countries have done in the face of the emergence of Omicron.

In addition, the period of validity of antigenic tests has been reduced in Portugal from 48 to 24 hours, according to a decision announced in the Council of Ministers on Thursday.

Like most other countries in the world, Portugal is experiencing an outbreak of new infections linked to the Omicron variant. The country reported on Saturday more than 41,000 infections in 24 hours and 44 deaths.

Finnish protests

The Finnish capital Oslo has been gripped by protests over COVID-19 restrictions and rising fuel prices. The demonstrations that started on Friday rolled into Saturday and traffic was blocked for several hours in front of the state parliament.

Fifty-five protesters have been detained so far. Organisers say they intend on using civil disobedience tactics.

Denmark is having its first weekend without COVID-19 restrictions. Neither facemasks nor COVID-19 passes are required, and nightlife could kick off again.

For 21 months, the country’s nightlife had been shut down, and owners and customers of various venues are enjoying the new freedom again, with clubs, bars, and restaurants reported to be working at full capacity.

source : euronews

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