International

Europe tightens curbs as new variant spreads

Surging infection rates have created ghost towns across Europe, while the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the rapid spread of the so-called UK Covid variant is “alarming”.

Here’s the latest from around the continent.

  • Germany reports its highest 24-hour death toll so far – 1,188. There were 31,849 new infections, the Robert Koch Institute reports, but the actual figures may be higher still because of fewer tests done over Christmas
  • Tighter lockdown measures are being enforced in different German areas: in Hamburg now, a household can only meet one person from another household – previously the limit was five people from two other households
  • EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen says the EU has agreed to buy an extra 300 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, doubling the amount of that vaccine available to EU citizens. The EU also approved the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday
  • Sweden has long clung to its pre-pandemic freedoms, but now MPs have passed a law to enable the closure of, or limited access to, shops, gyms, cinemas, museums and campsites. It will also ban private gatherings and restrict access to beaches and parks, if necessary. Covid has killed just over 9,000 in Sweden’s 10 million population – a relatively high death toll
  • France will keep all leisure and sports facilities closed until at least the end of January, PM Jean Castex says. With the English Covid variant spreading, the border is closed to most travellers from the UK.