(Reuters) – European countries such as France expanded COVID-19 booster vaccinations and started plans to get shots to children as young as five on Thursday as the continent battles a surge in coronavirus cases and worries grow about the economic fallout.
Europe is at the heart of the latest COVID-19 wave, reporting a million new infections roughly every two days and currently accounting for nearly two thirds of new infections worldwide.
Germany crossed the threshold of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday, with a total of 100,119 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. The number of new daily cases hit a new record of 75,961.
Data from Germany showed the surge in infections is weighing on consumer morale in Europe’s largest economy, dampening business prospects in the Christmas shopping season.
The European Commission proposed on Thursday that EU residents will need to have booster shots if they want to travel to another country in the bloc next summer free of tests or quarantines.
In France, authorities announced that booster shots would be made available to everyone aged over 18, rather than just the over-65s and those with underlying health issues.
Many countries are rolling out or increasing the use of booster shots here, although the World Health Organization wants the most vulnerable people worldwide to be fully vaccinated first.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Wednesday recommended here vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40.
In Africa, where just 6.6% of the population of 1.2 billion is fully vaccinated, many countries are struggling with the logistics of accelerating their inoculation campaigns as deliveries of vaccines finally pick up, the head of Africa’s disease control body said on Thursday.
VACCINATIONS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
There is a growing push in some countries for vaccinating young children.
The EU’s medicines watchdog on Thursday approved use of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds at a lower dose, after authorising it for children as young as 12 in May. The European Commission will issue a final decision, which is expected on Friday.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were preparing to inoculate younger children following the European Medicines Agency’s approval, although deliveries of the lower doses are not due until Dec. 20.
In France, where the number of infections is doubling every 11 days, Health Minister Olivier Veran said he would ask health regulators to examine whether 5- to 11-year-olds should be able to get vaccinated.
Many European countries are toughening curbs.
Slovakia went into a two-week lockdown on Thursday, following neighbouring Austria that began a lockdown on Monday, as the country with one of the EU’s lowest vaccination rates reported a critical situation in hospitals and new infections that topped global tables.
Authorities ordered all but essential shops and services closed and banned people from travelling outside their districts unless going to work, school, or a doctor. Gatherings of more than six people were banned.
French authorities said rules on wearing face masks will be tightened and checks on health passes used for entry to public places will be increased. But officials said there was no need to follow European countries that have reimposed lockdowns.
In Germany, Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock said the new government, comprising the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), had set itself 10 days to decide if further restrictions are needed.
Much of Germany has already introduced rules to restrict access to indoor activities to people who have been vaccinated or have recovered.
In the Netherlands, the number of coronavirus patients in hospital has hit levels not seen since early May, and experts have warned that hospitals will reach full capacity in little more than a week if the virus is not contained.
National broadcaster NOS reported on Thursday the Dutch government’s leading Outbreak Management Team has advised the closure of restaurants, bars, and non-essential stores by 5 p.m. as part of a new package of lockdown measures, but the government was not due to make a decision until Friday.
Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Madeline Chambers, Emma Thomasson, Radovan Stoklasa, Gergely Szakacs, Anthony Deutsch and Reuters bureaus, Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Josephine Mason and Angus MacSwan