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Across Europe, protests swell against pandemic restrictions

Protesters in Vienna march against Austria’s new coronavirus restrictions Nov. 20, after the government announced a nationwide lockdown starting Monday and said vaccines will be required for everyone next year. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

BRUSSELS — Protests against coronavirus restrictions erupted across Europe — including clashes in Rotterdam and massive rallies in Vienna — as authorities announced more-stringent measures in an attempt to control rising cases ahead of the winter holidays.

At least seven people were injured and more than 50 arrested after protests in Rotterdam turned violent late Friday, with protesters throwing stones and police firing shots, according to Dutch police. Demonstrators decried a proposed law that would ban unvaccinated people from entering businesses even if they provide a negative test. They also protested a partial lockdown that went into effect last week and will last until at least Dec. 4, which forces restaurants and other establishments to close at 8 p.m.

In Vienna, tens of thousands of people took to the streets Saturday after the country’s decision to mandate vaccines for everyone starting in February and impose new lockdowns beginning Monday.

In Italy, weekly protests against coronavirus restrictions showed no signs of easing, with demonstrations in Rome, including at the ancient Circus Maximus grounds. On social media, users posted videos from protests in other countries including France and Switzerland.

Ferd Grapperhaus, the Netherlands’ minister of security and justice, called for a “vigorous debate” over pandemic measures but said “harassment and violence do not belong” there.

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb described the clashes as “an orgy of violence” and said “police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves.”

One police officer was hospitalized with a leg injury, and two protesters were struck by bullets. Officials are investigating whether they were hit with police gunfire, according to the Associated Press.

Thousands of people, including supporters of the far-right Freedom Party, objected to a new lockdown of the unvaccinated on Nov. 20 in Austria’s capital. (Video: Reuters)

Europe is the world’s only region with coronavirus deaths on the rise, with a 5 percent jump since earlier this month, according to the World Health Organization. In response, authorities are tightening rules for the unvaccinated.

In Berlin, for example, only those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus can now go inside bars and restaurants. Greece reimposed some restrictions for unvaccinated people, the AP reported. Belgium mandated that people work from home at least four days a week.

Other protests were held in dozens of cities across Europe. In Belfast, several hundred people gathered outside city hall to oppose vaccine passports. In Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, anti-vaccine marchers waved flags and carried banners denouncing vaccine mandates as violations of personal freedom.

The European Union relies on digital covid certificates to allow people to travel between E.U. countries without quarantining and — in many places — enter restaurants and other sites. The certificate shows if a person is vaccinated, has recently tested negative for the virus or has already recovered from the virus. The European Commission said Friday that the 27-nation bloc has so far issued 660 million certificates.

“The issuance of covid certificates is a very important tool to ensure safe, free movement in the European Union and also a very successful tool,” spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters Friday.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will probably challenge a key line of treatment for people with compromised immune systems — the drugs known as monoclonal antibodies.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

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