Leaders of European Union member states are meeting in Brussels Thursday seeking a unified approach to the new omicron coronavirus variant to avoid widespread lockdowns and closed borders.
Ahead of the summit, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control on Wednesday said the new, highly transmissible omicron is likely to become the dominant variant in the region as early as next month.
In the midst of the festive holiday season, many leaders of nations which are heavily dependent on tourism expressed reluctance to close borders or add additional travel restrictions, such as mandatory testing.
But several nations ahead of the summit have already done so, at least through the holidays, with Italy implementing mandatory testing even for vaccinated travelers.
The consensus going into Thursday’s meeting was that vaccination and booster programs needed to be accelerated.
The other looming issue for EU leaders is ongoing tensions with Russia, which has amassed troops at the border with Ukraine, leading many in the international community to believe an invasion may be imminent.
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on Wednesday promised “unprecedented measures” should Russia escalate the situation. EU nations are divided between those in the east that think sanctions should be imposed immediately, and others like France and Germany who fear that could provoke an invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin this week held video phone calls with European leaders and British Prime minister Boris Johnson, saying he was seeking negotiations guaranteeing the NATO alliance will not expand further east in Europe.
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.