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EU leaders to discuss increase in infections and spread of omicron variant

BRUSSELS (AP) – A summit of European Union leaders on Thursday is trying to coordinate actions to tackle the wave of coronavirus infections across the continent and the emergence of the new omicron variant while keeping borders open.

As the holiday season approaches, leaders in the bloc want to avoid a confusing mix of rules and make sure all 27 member states are on the same page and that COVID-19 certificates continue to guarantee unrestricted travel.

But the alarming rise in infections has prompted many European governments to implement public health measures and further restrictions in recent weeks. France will limit arrivals from Britain due to the rapid spread of omicron cases, limiting reasons to travel and requiring 48-hour isolation on arrival. The new measures will come into force on Saturday.

The European Council, which brings together EU leaders to set the bloc’s political agenda, said ahead of the talks in Brussels that “no restrictions should undermine the functioning of the single market or hamper travel between EU member states. the EU and towards Europe “.

Italy demanded negative tests from vaccinated visitors this week, raising concerns that similar trips elsewhere will limit the ability of EU citizens to travel to see friends and relatives during the holidays.

Portugal adopted a similar measure on December 1, requiring a mandatory negative test for all passengers on arriving flights, regardless of their vaccination status, point of origin or nationality. Greece announced on Wednesday that all arriving travelers must test negative from Sunday unless they have spent less than 48 hours abroad.

Leaders will discuss the vaccine rollout and the need to deploy booster doses to counter the spread of omicron.

“The only answer to omicron at the moment is to accelerate our vaccination program, with special emphasis on booster injections,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “In Greece, we are one of the first European countries to open recalls to the entire population.

Mitsotakis said additional restrictive measures, such as additional testing for visitors, should only apply during the Christmas period “so that we can buy extra time to stimulate as many people as possible.” It’s a battle against time.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said leaders were very concerned about omicron’s ability to spread rapidly and put pressure on health systems.

Omicron is expected to be the dominant variant of the coronavirus in the 27 countries of the European Union by mid-January, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She said more than 66% of the EU population is now fully vaccinated, but this figure does not offer a clear picture of the contrasting situation in the EU.

While countries like Portugal and Spain have vaccinated the vast majority of their populations, other countries are far behind. Bulgaria, for example, has only 26.6% of its population fully vaccinated, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.