The Omicron COVID-19 variant was first detected in South Africa last month and is now spreading worldwide. European officials are warning that Omicron transmissibility is driving new infections higher.
European countries were among the first to detect cases of the variant outside of Africa. Officials have been racing to place new restrictions on freedoms to mitigate the spread.
Most European countries have travel restrictions in place. Austria went into a full lockdown but has since ended it. Other countries went into partial lockdowns. Norway took public health restrictions just a little too far this week and banned the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants to control the spread, according to Reuters.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store also imposed stricter public health measures. Norwegians are encouraged to work at home, and larger gatherings could soon be nixed.
"Infection rates in Norway are increasing sharply, and we have now gained new knowledge about the Omicron variant and how fast it can spread. We are in a more serious situation," Store said. He said "stricter measures" were necessary "to maintain control of the pandemic."
"That's why we need to act fast and we need to act again," he said, adding, "for many, this will feel like a lockdown, if not of society then of their lives and their livelihoods."
Norwegian Institute of Public Health said a lack of action to stop the spread "could lead to large negative consequences for society, not just for health services and municipalities."
Infections and hospitalizations have been rising sharply for well over a month. Last week, Norway recorded 21,457 COVID-19 infections and 33 deaths.
Omicron is expected to be the dominant variant near term. This is also expected to be the case in the UK before Christmas.
Other European countries are bracing for a new wave of infections. Norway's move to ban the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants, even for the vaccinated, comes as the state's top epidemiologist Frode Forland said the new variant is highly transmissible. However, he explained the variant is "milder" could prove to be the "best scenario" because it would boost "natural immunity" and bring the end of the pandemic closer.
So if that's the case, why not keep bars and restaurants open?