Politics

Europe’s lockdown rage: Violence erupts after new COVID wave spreads at ‘lightning speed’

There were violent scenes in Brussels, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Denmark and Switzerland over the weekend amid clampdowns by European governments on civil liberties

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Europe Sunday night faced an increasingly violent backlash against fresh COVID restrictions imposed to deal with a record number of new cases on the Continent.

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Riot police used water cannons and tear gas as peaceful demonstrations turned ugly in Brussels when tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets.

Demonstrators smashed the glass at the entrance to a European Commission building after young men in hoods attacked police vans with baseball bats.

It followed a second night of disorder in the Netherlands on Saturday over the introduction of new coronavirus restrictions, when police opened fire on the crowds, wounding at least four people.

There were also violent scenes in Austria, Italy, Croatia, Denmark and Switzerland over the weekend amid clampdowns by European governments on civil liberties to curb a steep increase in the number of infections that are putting healthcare systems under strain.

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Austria’s interior minister yesterday warned of increasing “radicalization” among the population, days after it was announced that three anti-lockdown protesters had been arrested for setting a police car on fire in an attempt to burn an officer.

Europe is experiencing a worrying increase in the number of coronavirus cases. France yesterday reported some 19,749 new infections, a 58 per cent jump from a week ago. Gabrial Attall, a government spokesman, told reporters the “fifth wave is starting at lightning speed.”

Protesters start a fire in a Brussels street during a demonstration against Belgium government’s measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 and mandatory vaccination, November 21, 2021.
Protesters start a fire in a Brussels street during a demonstration against Belgium government’s measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 and mandatory vaccination, November 21, 2021. Photo by Hatim Kaghat/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

The unrest increased debates in Germany and other European countries about the possible introduction of compulsory immunizations, with low vaccination rates prompting fears a new wave of infections could once again cripple the Continent.

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As Europe endured fresh violence, in Britain, Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, insisted no such measures were necessary, saying he hoped people can “look forward to Christmas together.”

He played down the likelihood of tougher curbs being introduced in England.

Javid said the “one big difference” between Britain and parts of Europe is the U.K.’s jab booster programme. “It’s the most successful of Europe,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, adding it is “absolutely key for us to keep this virus at bay.” The U.K. has completed 15 million booster doses, with 25 per cent of over-12s covered.

He also highlighted that the U.K. “made a tough decision back at the start of the summer” to open up, while “other countries didn’t follow our course.”

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Despite Javid’s upbeat tone, he warned that the public must “remain cautious, not complacent in any way,” describing the virus as “very unpredictable.”

He also stressed that taking up the flu vaccine was “just as important this winter” as receiving a COVID booster shot, in order to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

A government source echoed his sentiments last night, telling The Daily Telegraph: “The current data show no sign of a need to change course. The most important way to minimize risk against the virus is to come forward for a booster jab when called.”

The Health Secretary vowed earlier in the day that Britain will not consider making vaccines mandatory for the general population.

In Brussels, police arrested 44 people, while three officers and one demonstrator were hospitalized after the violence. Police were forced to use bulldozers to remove blockades on city streets made from wooden pallets and set on fire.

Several of the demonstrators carried Flemish nationalist flags, while others wore Nazi-era yellow stars.

A protester speaks to a crowd of 1,000 to 1,200 people gathered at a demonstration against new government COVID-19 restrictions in Copenhagen, Denmark, November 20, 2021.
A protester speaks to a crowd of 1,000 to 1,200 people gathered at a demonstration against new government COVID-19 restrictions in Copenhagen, Denmark, November 20, 2021. Photo by Thibault Savary/AFP via Getty Images

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