It was a week where everyone was talking about a word that didn’t exist in most people’s world the week before: Omicron.
Detected in South Africa, the variant of the coronavirus was in Europe several days earlier than previously known and is now circulating across the continent.
Governments across the continent have established new travel bans on flights from southern African countries.
But WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Jaouad Mahjour said at this point restricting flights wouldn’t help.
“It is clear that a travel ban cannot stop the circulation of the virus and more importantly, the travel ban can undermine efforts to fight the epidemic.”
The timing is grim for Europe, which is already in the grip of a new wave of infections.
Many governments are now considering drastically scaling back their plans to stay open during the Christmas holidays.
They learned from the past. Too often, countries have let their guard down, thinking the worst of the pandemic was behind them, only to be overwhelmed by another.
So what’s the next step? Everyone agrees that the vaccination campaigns must be stepped up.
And even compulsory vaccinations are no longer taboo.
“I think it is understandable and appropriate to have this discussion now, how we can encourage and potentially think about compulsory vaccination in the European Union, this requires a discussion”, said on Wednesday Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
Rising inflation persists
In the meantime, the pandemic continues to shake the economy.
Equity markets have had a roller coaster week as investors worried about Omicron’s impact.
And consumer prices in the eurozone continued to rise at a record pace.
The annual inflation rate reached 4.9% in November, the highest since the record started in 1997, two years before the euro was launched.
Holger Schmieding, chief economist at German bank Berenberg, spoke to Euronews and said the outlook for inflation for the foreseeable future was still uncertain.
“The outlook is not clear in the short term. On the one hand, oil prices are lower,” Schmieding said. “On the other hand, more people may want to spend money on goods on the internet, and goods are scarce and could increase. So, when it comes to inflation, it’s not clear in the short run. term.”
He added: “We have seen in previous waves of the pandemic that the pandemic does not change the long term trend of inflation. Moreover, the economic impact, including the impact on inflation of any wave of the pandemic, has receded from wave to wave. I expect inflation to drop significantly over the next year. “
ECJ opinion says no to Hungary-Poland
In other non-COVID news, Hungarian and Polish courts’ attempt to prevent EU cash distributions from being contingent on rule of law “should be rejected,” says opinion by the European Court of Justice.
Budapest and Warsaw took their cases to the ECJ earlier this year, but on Thursday the court’s advocate general issued an opinion saying their attempt should be rejected.
The court’s opinion precedes a full court ruling, which is expected in the coming months.
Tying the disbursement of funds to democratic principles was a key part of the EU’s decision last year to push through a massive grants program for the 27 member countries to overcome the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona advised that the actions of Hungary and Poland “should be dismissed” and argued that the budget-rule of law nexus was “adopted on an appropriate legal basis … and respects the principle of legal certainty ”.
The court said in a statement that “respect for the principles of the rule of law can be of vital importance for the proper functioning of public finances and the proper execution of the Union budget”.
Poland and Hungary have been the subject of criticism within the EU for years for allegations that they erode the independence of the judiciary and the media, among other democratic principles. The EU had found itself unable to do much to change the course of either nation and therefore turned to associating money with their adherence to democratic behavior.