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French Prime Minister Jean Castex tests positive for Covid-19, forcing Belgian leader to isolate

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

Upon his return from Belgium, Castex learned that his 11-year-old daughter had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV. Then the prime minister also tested positive and is being isolated.

His Belgian counterpart, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, along with four other ministers, are now being isolated after their meeting, according to Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.

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

Despite being a “contact case” – a person who had contact with someone else with coronavirus – many times before and his wife infected with the disease, Castex had never caught the disease himself.

Bodies piled up outside hospital morgue as Romania battles fourth wave of Covid
The positive test results come as Europe grapples with an increase in Covid-19 cases that has pushed the continent back to the epicenter of the pandemic, prompting governments to tighten restrictions and spark violent protests by citizens.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday due to the government’s toughest restrictions, with police firing tear gas and water cannon after peaceful demonstrations turned violent.

The clashes near European Commission headquarters came as Belgium on Wednesday tightened its restrictions on the coronavirus – including expanding the use of masks and working from home – amid growing cases.

Neighboring France is also experiencing an increase in the rate of Covid-19 infection, although President Emmanuel Macron has said a blockade of the unvaccinated is “not necessary” given the country’s use of a “health crossing” to enter a wide variety of institutions.

Elsewhere Austria on Monday became the first European Union country to turn into a complete blockade this autumn amid a record number of cases. According to the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), the seven-day incidence rate in Austria last week exceeded 1,000 per 1,000,000 inhabitants for the first time during the pandemic.

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

In a desperate attempt to encourage people to take their blows, Austria’s public broadcaster ORF said Monday it was offering a “vaccination lottery” to qualified residents – at prices including a family home, an electric car and smart TVs.

Austria announces Europe's first nationwide vaccine mandate and reimposes blockade as Covid-19 rises
Austria is not alone. Neighboring Germany is also battling record numbers of cases, particularly in its eastern states, where health officials have warned that surplus hospitals could soon run out without beds for intensive care patients.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn did not contradict his words Monday as he urged people to be vaccinated. Spahn told a news conference in Berlin that he was confident that by the end of this winter, everyone in Germany would be “vaccinated, cured or die” about the Delta variant.

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

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

While the European Union as a whole has been a world leader in inoculations – more than 76% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the ECDC – the spread has been extremely uneven 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 the corridors of a 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 rate of vaccination to a number of factors, including suspicion of the authorities, deep religious beliefs and a flood of misinformation spreading on social media.

The protests become violent

Covid-19’s new restrictions sparked violent protests in several European cities over the weekend, as many citizens face the prospect of their second Christmas in isolation.

Together with Brussels, riots erupted in The Hague on Saturday over the Dutch government’s new measures for the coronavirus. Video from the scene shows rebel police placing water cannons and attacking groups of demonstrators.

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

Violent clashes erupted during anti-blockade demonstrations in Europe

Elsewhere, about 40,000 people also gathered on the streets of Vienna on Saturday in the country’s largest coronavirus protest to date.

In the Croatian city of Zagreb, about 15,000 people demonstrated on Saturday against government measures for the coronavirus.

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

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

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