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French prime minister tests positive for Covid-19, forcing Belgium’s leader into isolation

<i>John Thys/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>France Prime Minister Jean Castex has tested positive for Covid-19
AFP via Getty Images
John Thys/AFP/Getty Images
France Prime Minister Jean Castex has tested positive for Covid-19

By Xiaofei Xu and Sheena McKenzie, CNN

France’s prime minister has tested positive for Covid-19, forcing five Belgian ministers to also go into self-isolation after meeting with the French politician Monday.

Prime Minister Jean Castex, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for the virus after returning to France from a visit with ministers in Brussels, his office confirmed to CNN.

On his return from Belgium, Castex learned his 11-year-old daughter had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV. The Prime Minister then also tested positive and is self-isolating.

His Belgium counterpart, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, along with four other ministers, are now self- isolating following their meeting, according to Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.

Castex is not experiencing any symptoms and was feeling good when the positive test came back Monday night, BFMTV reported.

Despite being a “contact case” — a person who had contact with someone else with the coronavirus — multiple times before and his wife catching the disease, Castex had until now never caught the disease himself.

The positive test results come as Europe battles a surge in Covid-19 cases that has pushed the continent back to the epicenter of the pandemic, causing governments to toughen restrictions and sparking violent protests from citizens.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday over tougher government restrictions, with police firing water cannons and tear gas after the peaceful demonstration turned violent.

The clashes near the European Commission headquarters came after Belgium on Wednesday tightened its coronavirus restrictions — including broadening mask use and working from home — amid surging cases.

Neighboring France is also experiencing a rise in Covid-19 infection rates, though President Emmanuel Macron has said a lockdown of the unvaccinated is “not necessary” given the country’s use of a “health pass” to access a wide variety of establishments.

Elsewhere Austria on Monday became the first European Union country to go back into full lockdown this autumn amid a record number of cases. Last week Austria’s seven-day incidence rate passed 1,000 per 1000,000 inhabitants for the first time during the pandemic, according to the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES).

Austria now plans to become the first European nation to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for all eligible people from February 1, according to its Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg.

In a desperate attempt to encourage people to get their jabs, Austria’s public broadcaster ORF said Monday it is offering a “vaccination lottery” to eligible residents — with prizes including a family house, an electric car and smart TVs.

Austria is not alone. Neighboring Germany is also battling record case numbers, particularly in its eastern states where health officials have warned overstretched hospitals could soon run out of beds for intensive care patients.

Germany’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn, didn’t mince his words on Monday as he urged people to get vaccinated. Spahn told a press conference in Berlin he was certain that by the end of this winter, everyone in Germany would be “vaccinated, recovered or dead,” in relation to the Delta variant.

The country now plans to introduce targeted Covid-19 restrictions on the unvaccinated.

Even Ireland, which has one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates — with around 90% of eligible people immunized — has not been spared the continent’s surge in cases. Last week the country imposed a midnight curfew on bars, restaurants and nightclubs as it faces a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections.

While the European Union as a whole has been a world leader on inoculations — more than 76% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the ECDC — the rollout has been extremely unequal across the bloc. On the eastern side, Romania and Bulgaria have fully vaccinated only 43% and 29% of their adults, respectively.

A CNN team last week witnessed dozens of bodies in black plastic bags piled up in corridors of one hospital in Bucharest as the facility struggled with the influx of deaths caused by the virus.

Medical workers and officials in Romania attribute the low vaccination rate to a variety of factors, including suspicion of the authorities, deeply held religious beliefs, and a flood of misinformation surging through social media.

Protests turn violent

Fresh Covid-19 restrictions sparked violent protests across some European cities at the weekend, as many citizens face the prospect of their second Christmas under lockdown.

Along with Brussels, rioting broke out at The Hague on Saturday over the Dutch government’s new coronavirus measures. Video from the scene shows riot police deploying water cannons and charging groups of demonstrators.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday denounced the rioters as “idiots” who are using new Covid-19 restrictions as an excuse for violence.

Elsewhere, an estimated 40,000 people also on Saturday crowded the streets of Vienna in the country’s biggest coronavirus-related protest to date.

In the Croatian city of Zagreb, around 15,000 people on Saturday demonstrated against the government’s coronavirus measures.

And on the same night, France sent dozens of elite police and counter-terrorism officers to its Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, following looting and arson in defiance of an overnight curfew.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Stephanie Halasz, Nina Avramova, Cristiana Moisescu, Ben Wedeman, Rob Iddiols and Jo Shelley contributed to this report

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

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