Omicron Rise Forces Some European Nations to Add Restrictions Before New Year's Eve

Several European countries have imposed new restrictive measures as cases of the Omicron variant continue to rise, even as uncertainty remains about the threat of the strain compared with earlier coronavirus variants.

In the U.K., where a new record of 122,186 virus cases was reported this past Friday, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have all decided to close nightclubs. Britain has yet to do the same, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains resistant to ordering new restrictions to curb the virus's spread, but he hasn't ruled the measures out.

The Johnson government's opposition to restrictions hasn't prevented a popular British pastime from being affected by the latest surge in virus cases. English Premier League games are facing a wave of cancellations, with 15 soccer matches called off in less than three weeks and more possible.

Several new measures went into effect in Belgium Monday, including a cap of two adults when shopping, although they may bring children, and the closure of movie theaters and concert halls. The government has faced criticism from those who say residents could benefit from visiting arts centers.

"We need it also for our mental health. It is the only way for people to live experiences, to tell stories. It is of paramount importance for us to be open in these complicated and complex times," said Michael De Kok, the artistic director of the Flemish Royal Theatre.

Belgium has also canceled New Year's Eve fireworks, closed nightclubs and ordered restaurants and bars to halt service at 11 p.m.

Europe COVID Measures
Some European countries have imposed new restrictive measures in response to the coronavirus as cases of the Omicron variant continue to surge. Above, a vaccinator administers a Moderna booster shot to a man in Antwerp, Belgium, on Monday. Virginia Mayo/AP Photo

France has recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic and COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled over the past month. President Emmanuel Macron's government is holding emergency meetings Monday to discuss the next steps in tackling the virus.

It is hoping that stepped-up vaccinations will be enough. The government is pushing a draft law that would require vaccination to enter all restaurants and many public venues, instead of the current health pass system which allows people to produce a negative test or proof of recovery if they're not vaccinated.

This piecemeal, often hesitant approach is visible throughout much of Europe. In Poland, a nation of 38 million where the daily death toll now often breaks through the threshold of 500 cases, nightclubs may be closed, but they will be allowed to reopen on New Year's Eve, with the government unwilling to go against the many voters opposed to restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.

In Italy, the government has not mandated any rules for private gatherings, but it has set its sights on New Year's Eve, banning outdoor events and closing discotheques until the end of January.

The Netherlands is currently the exception to the rule of disjointed decision-making. The government there has gone farther than most European countries and shut down all nonessential stores, restaurants and bars and extended the school holidays in a partial new lockdown.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.K. COVID Measures
Passengers ride a bus through Westminster in London on Monday. David Cliff/AP Photo