A number of countries in Europe braced for a new wave of COVID-19 infections, some of which reported on Wednesday record numbers in new daily cases and hospitalizations.
"The alarm signals are all red," Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference.
"We had all hoped to have a winter without coronavirus, but Belgium is not an island."
Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases spiked in the country's fourth COVID-19 wave.
From Saturday, all people in indoor venues such as cafés and restaurants will need to wear a mask unless seated and the rule will apply to those aged 10 or older.
In The Netherlands, health authorities said they were running short of COVID-19 tests, as the country registered more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row, the highest since the pandemic began.
The National Public Health Service, in a statement, said it was working to expand test capacity amid a new surge that has caught health authorities and Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government off guard. Around 85% of the adult Dutch population is fully vaccinated.
Hospital admissions are rising and several are curtailing regular care to accommodate COVID-19 patients.
The latest wave began shortly after the government ended social distancing and other measures in September -- a decision that has been reversed as cases skyrocket.
Portugal, meanwhile, said it was considering imposing new restrictions after an increase in cases and hospitalizations, despite having one of the world's best vaccination rates.
Health authorities on Wednesday recorded 2,527 new cases and more than 500 hospitalizations, the highest figures since early September.
More than 86 percent of Portugal's population have been fully vaccinated and authorities are urging the over-65s to take a third COVID vaccine dose.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Tuesday warned of greater restrictions as the festive season approached but ruled out imposing another state of emergency.
"We must act now. The later we act, the greater the risks," he said.
In Germany, the coronavirus situation is dramatic, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned, calling for an extra push on vaccinations a day before federal and regional leaders meet to agree on measures to curb a fourth wave of the virus.
Germany reported 52,826 new infections on Wednesday, a jump of a third from a week ago and another daily record, while 294 people died, bringing the total to 98,274, as the pandemic tightens its grip on Europe.
Merkel said a national effort was needed and appealed to federal and regional leaders meeting on Thursday to introduce steps to trigger tighter restrictions based on the number of infected people being hospitalized in a week.
Germany and Austria have among the lowest rates of vaccination in western Europe and are now the epicenter of a new wave of the pandemic as winter grips the continent.
The German health ministry said 436,000 people received a shot on Tuesday, including 300,000 boosters, the highest number in about three months. Queues have been forming at vaccination centers around the country.
"It is a sign that many citizens have recognized the need," government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said. But he added that the vaccination rate was still not high enough.
In France, more than 20,000 new confirmed coronavirus infections were recorded on Wednesday for the first time since August 25, as the fifth wave of the epidemic picked up speed.
Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said earlier on Wednesday that France is being hit by a fifth wave of infections but added that no extra restrictive measures are on the agenda for now. The government hopes that a high vaccination rate will limit the number of people needing hospital care for the disease.
However, the French government's top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy also said on Wednesday that authorities may have to ask companies once again to make greater use of home-working. (Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Chris Reese, Kirsten Donovan) — With reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters