Tunisia curbs return as Irish, Danish ease

·3-min read

Authorities are extending coronavirus restrictions in Tunisia and Greece while restrictions were set to be eased in Denmark and Ireland.

Tunisia's government said on Wednesday it will re-impose a night curfew and ban all gatherings for two weeks starting from Thursday to counter the rapid spread of COVID-19 - a move critics decried as aimed at stopping protests.

The ban on gatherings and a request to avoid travel within the country except for emergencies comes two days before a planned demonstration against President Kais Saied called by major political parties.

Tunisia imposed a curfew during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 and again for much of last year but lifted it in September as cases dropped.

Its new curfew will be in place for at least two weeks and run from 10pm to 5am each night.

The government's perceived poor response to the pandemic, including a botched vaccine roll-out, raised the political pressure before Saied dismissed parliament and seized broad powers in July in moves his critics call a coup.

Leaders of two parties that had joined the call for protests on Friday accused the government of restoring the health restrictions for political reasons.

Greece was set to extend restrictions by a week at restaurants and bars to help curb the Omicron variant which has dominated the country and was the main driver of a surge in coronavirus infections in recent weeks.

The country imposed curbs on bars, restaurants and nightclubs over the Christmas holidays last month, which were due to end on January 17.

The restrictions, which have forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, will be extended to January 24, health authorities said on Wednesday.

A double mask will still be mandatory in supermarkets and transport.

Meanwhile, the Danish government on Wednesday proposed easing coronavirus restrictions at the end of the week, including the reopening of cinemas and music venues, as hospitalisation rates decline despite record-high infection numbers.

The move is an encouraging sign even as the World Health Organisation and public health experts have warned of a tsunami of Omicron cases.

Denmark registered a surge in daily infections in mid-December, prompting new restrictions including the closure of theatres, cinemas, entertainment parks and conference centres as well as measures to limit large crowds in stores and shops.

However, even as infection rates remain near record levels above 20,000 a day, hospital admissions and deaths have stabilised at levels below those of a year ago.

"In light of how well things are going, it's really, really positive that the Epidemic Commission (an expert advisory group) now recommends lifting some of the restrictions, not least in the cultural sphere," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said.

The government proposed following the advisory group's recommendations, including the reopening of theatres, cinemas, museums and botanic gardens as well as allowing spectators at outdoor sports events.

It proposed limiting attendance at indoor music venues to 500.

Similarly, a senior minister in Ireland said on Wednesday the country should be in a position to start easing restrictions from next month once the number of people requiring critical care remains stable.

Ireland has the second highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe but also one of the continent's highest uptake of booster vaccines, helping keep the number of patients in intensive care stable and well below the peak of previous waves of the disease.

The cabinet agreed on Wednesday to scrap the isolation period for boosted people who have been in close contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 and Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said he hoped to offer companies further respite next month.

"I am very confident we will be able to ease restrictions as we go into February. The science says that this will be a short wave, if we can get through it with our hospital numbers down, then we will be able to start lifting restrictions," Ryan, the leader of the junior coalition Green Party, told reporters.

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