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Protesters, police clash in Brussels over renewed COVID-19 restrictions

This screenshot shows Belgian riot police lined up behind barridcades in Brussels on Dec.19, 2021.

Belgian police and protesters have engaged in fierce clashes after thousands of people demonstrated in Brussels against reinforced COVID-19 restrictions.

It was the third such demonstration in recent weeks, with the protesters marching from the Gare du Nord railway to a park in the city's European quarters.

The peaceful protesters held placards reading, "Belgium United for Freedom," “Free Zone,” “I’ve had my Fair Dose,” and “Enough is Enough,” to express their anger and resentment over curbs.

According to reports, a smaller group of mainly young protesters, who were black-clad and hooded, clashed with riot police manning the route leading to the EU headquarters.

A report stated that the stone-throwing protesters were dispersed by riot police, which was followed by several arrests.

Belgium is recording some 10,000 new COVID-19 cases per day as the Omicron variant of coronavirus spreads across Europe, prompting authorities to impose strict public health measures.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo's government is expected to meet on Wednesday to decide on any new measures during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Belgium has rolled-out a relatively smooth inoculation program, and administration of booster vaccines has already begun.

However, a vocal minority is against the government's mandatory shots and health-certificates, while some oppose strict lockdown measures.

The protest in Brussels came a day after similar protests were witnessed in other European capitals including Paris and London.

The European countries have moved swiftly to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

France and Austria have tightened travel restrictions in the wake of the Omicron scare. Paris on Saturday said it was cancelling its traditional New Year fireworks. Denmark also announced the closure of theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums.

"With regard to the acceleration of the pandemic, and the risks related to the end-of-year festivities, authorities should impose significant restrictions," France's scientific panel said on Sunday.

Switzerland is also stepping up measures against the new variant from Monday as the country battles a ferocious fifth wave of the virus.

The Netherlands announced strict lockdown on Sunday morning to limit a feared COVID-19 surge due to the Omicron variant, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. Rutte told a news conference on Saturday that all non-essential shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums and theatres must stay shut until January 14, while schools must close until at least January 9.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin in an address to the nation on Friday called for fresh measures to protect lives and livelihoods.

“None of this is easy. We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires,” Martin said. “The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with.”

Earlier, on Friday, Germany designated France and Denmark as high risk zones, and said it would impose quarantine on unvaccinated travelers from these countries, starting from Sunday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) this weekend said that the omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and variant cases are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission.

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