Europe is in the grip of violent backlashes against new COVID restrictions imposed to deal with a record number of new cases on the continent, with police in The Netherlands using live ammunition and wounding at least four people.
The Telegraph reports that riot police were forced to use water cannons and tear gas as peaceful demonstrations turned violent in Brussels, when tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets against the measures. They smashed the glass at the entrance to a European Commission building after young men in hoods attacked police vans with baseball bats.
Demonstrations also took place in Austria, Italy, Croatia, Denmark and Switzerland over the weekend amid clampdowns on civil liberties by European governments to curb a steep increase in the number of infections that are putting healthcare systems under strain.
On Sunday, Austria’s interior minister warned of increasing “radicalisation” among the population, days after it was announced that three anti-lockdown protesters had been arrested for setting a police car on fire in an attempt to burn an officer.
Europe is experiencing a worrying surge in the number of coronavirus cases. On Sunday, France reported 19,749 new infections, a 58% jump from a week ago. Gabriel Attal, a government spokesman, told reporters that the “fifth wave is starting at lightning speed”.
The unrest increased debates in Germany and other European countries about the possible introduction of compulsory immunisations, with low vaccination rates prompting fears a new wave of infections could once again cripple the Continent, says The Telegraph report.
As Europe endured fresh violence, in Britain, Health Secretary Sajid Javid insisted that no such measures were necessary and downplayed the likelihood of tougher curbs being introduced in England. He said the “one big difference” between Britain and those countries where infections were soaring was the UK’s vaccine booster programme. Britain has completed 15m booster doses, with 25% of over-12s covered.
In Brussels, police arrested 44 people on Sunday, while three officers and one demonstrator were hospitalised after the violence. Police were forced to use bulldozers to remove blockades on city streets made from wooden pallets and set on fire. Several of the demonstrators caught up in the clash carried Flemish nationalist flags, while others wore Nazi-era yellow stars.
The stand-off with riot police took place throughout the Belgian capital’s EU and government district, just metres from the prime minister’s residence, the US and Russian embassies.
Austria introduced a brutal national lockdown on Monday, with other European nations set to bring in similar restrictions in the coming days.
In Greece, unvaccinated people will be banned from indoor venues, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms.
In Slovakia, Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced a “lockdown for the unvaccinated”.
With infections hitting a record high for a 14th consecutive day, German politicians are also debating forcing all citizens to get vaccinated. The country’s acting health minister Jens Spahn issued his strongest warning yet to the country’s vaccine-reluctant as Europe's largest economy desperately tries to avoid another lockdown.
“Probably by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said, pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” he said, blaming “the very contagious delta variant”. “That is why we so urgently recommend vaccination,” he added.
His warning comes as outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the country’s current COVID curbs are “not enough” to rein in a fourth wave currently crashing over the country.
“We have a highly dramatic situation – the current rules are not enough,” she said, as new infections “double every 12 days”.
However, key figures in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is set to lead the next government, have said compulsory vaccinations are unnecessary and “constitutionally problematic”.
The current caretaker government led by Merkel would not be able to bring in a vaccine mandate without the support of the SPD, which is currently a junior coalition partner.
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