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Belgium enforces new Covid restrictions and Germany warns of ‘dramatic’ measures as Europe fights rising cases Germans have been warned that the country could face a “really terrible Christmas” as it reported record coronavirus cases amid the escalating surge across Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the situation was “dramatic” as the Robert Koch Institute reported 65,371 new cases in 24 hours on Thursday. “If enough people get vaccinated, that is the way out of the pandemic,” she added. The disease agency’s director, Lothar Wieler, said Germany needs to increase its vaccination rates to significantly above 75 per cent, from 67.7 per cent at present, a comparatively low figure for the continent. Some German regions have vaccination rates as low as 57.6 per cent. “We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,” said the agency’s warning that hospitals were running short of beds. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.” He called for the closure of clubs and bars, an end to large-scale events and access to many parts of public life to be limited to those who are vaccinated, as German politicians debated new measures on Thursday. Many regions have already excluded unvaccinated people from cinemas, restaurants and bars. It came as Belgium announced tougher restrictions in response to a rapid rise in coronavirus infections, including a return to home working four days a week and mandatory face coverings. People will need proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter cafes and restaurants and nightclubs will introduce testing for those who want to dance mask-free. Belgium is now the European Union’s highest ranking country in its rate of Covid-19 infections, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, just behind Austria. Prime minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference: “We had all hoped to have a winter without coronavirus, but Belgium is not an island.” A mid-December peak is looming for the continent, with leaders in countries including Ireland already reimposing restrictions. Virologists in the Netherlands, which was the first western European country to reimpose a partial lockdown last week, have proposed extending the Christmas holidays to slow a surge in Covid-19 cases among children that has forced half of schools to shut. Infections jumped to a record 23,600 on Thursday as the country’s National Institute for Health (RIVM) reported a weekly record

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