Europe is once again at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, accounting for more than half of all COVID-19 deaths reported this month, the World Health Organization reports.

Austria and three of its neighboring nations, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, have the world's highest rates of newly reported cases in the last week; 27 of the top 29 are in Europe.

Austria declared a state of emergency Tuesday in an attempt to contain the strong fourth wave of COVID-19 sweeping across Europe, while Germany's health minister, Jens Spahn, warned that by the end of this winter, "almost everyone in Germany will almost certainly be vaccinated, recovered, or dead."

"By the end of this winter, as some cynics assert, almost everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured, or dead," Spahn warned, urging more Germans to receive the vaccine.

European governments are toughening their anti-COVID-19 policies in response to rising infection rates - more than 2 million new cases per week, the highest level since the pandemic began - and popular resistance, with violent protests in a number of nations over the weekend.

Germany, like Austria, is currently experiencing the pandemic's deadliest phase. Several other European countries, like the Netherlands and Slovakia, have prohibited non-vaccinated individuals from entering any non-essential establishments or shopping malls on Tuesday.

Slovakia has also prohibited persons who are not vaccinated from attending public events or gatherings, and requires them to test at least twice a week just to get to work.

In Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, and Croatia, tens of thousands of people have demonstrated against official crackdowns and vaccine obligations, with scattered violence and police use of tear gas and water cannons.

While some protestors were organized by far-right parties, many were simply fed up with nearly two years of sporadic state control over their life ostensibly for public health.

As a result of the rapid filling of intensive care beds, Germany's hardest-hit districts have ordered additional closures, including the shutdown of Christmas markets and bazaars.

Unvaccinated individuals will be excluded from public venues such as movies, gyms, and indoor restaurants in regions with high hospitalization rates.

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany's current pandemic rules, which include a ban on unvaccinated individuals entering specific public venues, "are insufficient."

"We are in a really dramatic situation," Merkel told a meeting of the leaders of her conservative CDU party, participants said.