Dow Today – UK may tighten COVID curbs after Christmas as Omicron sweeps Europe
- Omicron infections multiplying across U.S. and Europe
- Senior UK ministers met to discuss any further steps
- U.S. COVID cases have risen 50% this month
LONDON, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Britain may impose new curbs to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant after Christmas, media reported on Monday, a day after the Netherlands began a fourth lockdown and as other European nations consider putting a squeeze on Christmas.
Omicron infections are multiplying rapidly across Europe and the United States, doubling every two or three days in London and elsewhere and taking a heavy toll on financial markets, which fear the impact on the global economic recovery.
The variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and so far been reported in at least 89 countries. The severity of illness it causes remains unclear.
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A British cabinet meeting on Tuesday had raised expectations new measures may be imminent, but media reports said ministers pushed back and that restrictions, lasting between 2 weeks and a month, were now more likely to be introduced after Christmas.
“The 28th has been pencilled in by officials as the starting point for the new curbs,” Steven Swinford, political editor of the Times, said on Twitter. Swinford and others said these would likely include a ban on households mixing indoors, as well as possible limits on the numbers who can meet outdoors, and pubs and restaurants limited to opening outdoors only.
Any decision to limit how people can celebrate Christmas would have come at a high political cost for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose authority has been undermined by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year. read more
“At this point we are still monitoring the data and keeping a very close eye on it,” a spokesperson for Johnson said when asked about the possibility of more curbs.
Britain has reported record levels of COVID-19 cases over the past week, with officials and ministers warning that hospitalisations are also rising.
In Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Omicron variant is spreading faster than the Delta variant and causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a shutdown on Saturday, ordering the closure of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places from Sunday until at least Jan. 14. read more
Germany plans to limit private gatherings from Dec. 28 to a maximum of 10 people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, according to a draft of proposed steps. The document also said access to restaurants would remain limited to people who could provide proof of vaccination or recovery. read more
Ireland on Friday ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced the capacity in all public events. Italy is also considering new measures, newspapers reported on Sunday.
FOOTFALL AND CONSUMPTION
Wall Street’s main indexes opened lower on Monday, dragged down by concerns about the impact of tighter COVID-19 curbs on the global economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) fell 143.32 points, or 0.41%, at the open to 35,222.12.
European stocks (.STOXX) were down 1.33%. Shopper numbers across Britain’s high streets fell 2.6% over the Dec. 18-19 weekend versus the previous weekend, researcher Springboard said. read more
Last week, the European Central Bank cut its euro zone growth forecast for next year to 4.2% from 4.6% previously, citing the pandemic among “headwinds”.
ECB President Christine Lagarde said that, even if economies were learning to adapt to living with COVID-19, tighter restrictions could delay the recovery.
Gilles Moec, Axa Group chief economist, said in a note on Monday that a “mediocre” first quarter of the year was now possible across Europe and the United States.
Israel added the United States to its “no-fly” list, citing concerns over the Omicron variant. U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said Omicron was “raging through the world” as he urged Americans to get booster shots.
Since the start of the month, U.S. COVID cases have risen 50%, according to a Reuters tally.
New York state recorded its third straight day of record cases with more than half in New York city, where Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the country to “go on a war footing” to fight Omicron with vaccinations.
Booster shots, on top of two-shot vaccinations, appear key to fighting the variant. Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) said on Monday a booster dose of its vaccine seemed to be protective against Omicron in laboratory testing, and that the current version of the shot would remain Moderna’s “first line of defence”. read more
Australia for its part is pushing to ease curbs despite a predicted surge in infections, hoping inoculations will help keep people out of hospital. read more
More than 274 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019. More than 5.65 million people have died.
The World Economic Forum on Monday postponed its annual meeting in Davos due to the spread of Omicron, putting off the event scheduled for January until mid-2022. read more
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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Nick Macfie and William Maclean; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Mark Heinrich, Susan Fenton and Giles Elgood
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