London [UK], December 19 (ANI): Across Europe there is a looming sense of dread over the surge in COVID-19 Omicron variant cases, forcing the Netherlands on Sunday to re-impose strict lockdown and UK mulling over new restrictive measures to contain the virus.
The Netherlands entered a strict new lockdown due to fears over the Omicron coronavirus variant, and the UK's health minister wouldn't rule out further restrictions, as Europe braces for a surge in coronavirus infections over the usually busy festive period, reported CNN.
Indoor gatherings in the Netherlands will now be limited to a maximum of two guests per household until at least mid-January, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Saturday.
Non-essential shops, hospitality venues and cultural institutions will also be closed, while schools will remain shut until at least January 9, reported CNN.
The Netherlands had already been battling a fresh wave of COVID-19 cases before the Omicron strain reached its shores last month. Some experts are now predicting it will become the dominant variant in the country before the end of the year.
This year's Christmas will look a lot like 2020 as Omicron spreads at a phenomenal rate in parts of the continent, reported CNN.
The UK too is in the grip of a surge in Omicron infections, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid telling a British broadcaster, that he could not rule out restrictions before Christmas.
The Omicron variant now accounts for around 60 per cent of COVID-19 cases in England, Javid also told Sky News, reported CNN.
Writing in the UK-based newspaper, Javid said that while a lot was still unknown about the severity of Omicron, the UK did know it was facing "a tsunami of infections in the coming days and weeks."
"Omicron spreads at a pace we have never seen before and has been doubling about every two to three days. Yesterday saw more than 90,000 new cases were reported across the UK. We are extremely confident the number of infections -- people with the disease but who have not been confirmed by a test -- is significantly higher than that," Javid wrote, reported CNN.
His comments come after London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday declared a "major incident" in the capital due to rapidly rising case numbers. A "major incident" refers to an event requiring special arrangements between emergency services and local authorities.
The UK in recent weeks reintroduced some measures -- including mask-wearing in most indoor public venues and working from home -- in an effort to curb infections.
The government's Scientific Group for Emergencies (SAGE) also warned that if further coronavirus measures are not introduced very soon, COVID-19 hospital admissions could reach 3,000 a day in England, in a meeting Thursday, reported CNN.
Meanwhile, Germany added the UK to its list of areas with "variants of concern" -- meaning only German citizens and residents will be able to enter the country from the UK.
Across the continent, cities are already cancelling New Year festivities amid concerns over rising cases.
France on Friday announced large outdoor events and gatherings will be banned on New Year's Eve as the country faces its fifth wave of infections, warning that Omicron will become the dominant variant by early 2022.
Denmark has also proposed closing cinemas and theaters, and limiting the numbers of people in shops the week before Christmas, as it attempts to control a spike in cases.
And Rome is among several Italian cities that have decided to cancel New Year's festivities over coronavirus concerns, authorities said on Thursday. (ANI)