Police opened fire on anti-lockdown protesters in the Dutch city of Rotterdam Friday as several European cities braced for further demonstrations against new Covid restrictions over the weekend.
“On a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves,” Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb told reporters after protesters tore through the city’s central shopping district, setting fires in their wake.
Describing the scenes as “an orgy of violence,” he added that “people were injured,” after officers “shot at protesters,” although he could not provide information on the extent of their injuries.
At least seven people had been injured in the clashes, police said in a statement on Twitter, which added that officers had also been injured in the clashes. Several arrests had been made, police said.
The protests erupted after the Netherlands became the first western European nation to impose a partial lockdown since the summer as Covid cases soared across the country, reaching record numbers in recent days, with Thursday seeing 23,000 new infections recorded in a single day.
The lockdown, which is set to last for at least three weeks, will see restaurants, bars and essential shops closing by 8 p.m. and non-essential retail shops and services shuttered by 6 p.m. Social gatherings in the home have also been limited to groups of four.
While the partial lockdown has sparked a backlash reminiscent of violent protests that broke out over Covid restrictions in the Netherlands back in January, the western European country is not alone in facing opposition to the return of Covid measures.
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Austria is also bracing for protests on Saturday as thousands plan to descend on the capital Vienna to rally against new Covid measures that will see Europe’s first full national lockdown this autumn and new rules introduced that will make vaccinations mandatory.
Starting Monday, the country is expected to enter into a 20-day lockdown that will see most restaurants, bars retail stores and entertainment venues closed. Austria is also set to make vaccinations mandatory starting in February.
Vienna police said they were expecting “numerous rallies” on Saturday, in a statement posted to Twitter. Most of these, they said were presumably directed against Austria’s new Covid measures.
A few demonstrations had already been banned from taking place, they added.
Other countries across the continent are also boosting restrictions or weighing the possibility of introducing new rules.
Germany announced Thursday that it would be stepping up coronavirus measures, restricting access to restaurants and other public spaces to those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in places where hospitalization rates are high.
Meanwhile, Denmark has also been mulling the possibility of introducing new restrictions just over two months after it lifted its remaining Covid rules in September.
Some nations, particularly in parts of eastern Europe, have blamed low vaccination uptake and high vaccine hesitancy for the resurgence of cases, while the lifting of restrictions and waning efficacy of Covid vaccines as countries look to roll out booster shots have also been blamed, particularly in nations with high vaccine uptake.
The World Health Organization has said Europe was the only region in the world that saw Covid-related deaths increase last week.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the director of the World Health Organization’s Europe region also warned earlier this month that the region was “back at the epicenter of the pandemic.”