Businesses in many parts of Europe are demanding more government help as new pandemic restrictions and heightened anxiety over the highly contagious Omicron variant have crushed what would normally be a profitable time of year.
Nowhere is this worse than in the Netherlands, where the Dutch government instituted a lockdown over the weekend, closing most shops, bars, restaurants, gyms, outdoor sports, cultural venues and schools through January.
Some business owners fear they may never reopen.
“That is something that I ask myself every day,” said Omar Waseq, who owns a cheese bar and a film cafe in the center of Utrecht. “I’m not 100 percent sure.”
Mr. Waseq estimated that he is losing about $50,000 each month while his cheese bar, Kaasbar Utrecht, is shuttered, and $100,000 at the cafe. Plans to rebuild a nightclub he owns that was burned in a fire in January have been put on hold.
He has had to let go most of his 80-person staff and is now trying to make money selling mulled wine in the streets and cheese packages door-to-door.
Many Dutch business owners are seeking help from the government. Calls to the nation’s business registry asking for assistance climbed past 400 on Monday — seven times the number logged the previous Monday.
In Britain, the government responded Tuesday, announcing 1 billion pounds, or about $1.3 billion, in aid for the hospitality industry, including one-time grants of £6,000 and rebates for employees’ sick pay.
The hope for more aid comes as a fresh wave of anxiety over the coronavirus and the economy washes over the region.
In Germany, businesses are pressing the government to lift new requirements that customers show proof of vaccination or recent recovery that they say have scared away customers at what is supposed to be their busiest — and most lucrative — time of the year.
“We are in a different phase now where lockdown will be potentially more costly,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Up until now we’ve been used to lockdowns followed by support from the government. I think that will be the case as well, but support will be more conditional, less comprehensive than before.”
In the Netherlands, Mr. Waseq said that because he opened his businesses after the pandemic began and did not have 2019 sales to use as a benchmark comparison, he was not eligible for government assistance.
Ron Sinnige, a spokesman for the country’s national business registry, the Kamer van Koophandel, said the agency was flooded with calls from owners this week asking about financial assistance, advice, or liquidating their operations. Some were seeking guidance on how to qualify as an essential business — could a clothing store sell candy and soda, could a beauty salon offer post-surgical massages or list Botox injections as a medical procedure.
The questions were a sign of people’s creativity and despair, Mr. Sinnige said. “As opposed to previous lockdowns, people are really at the end of their financial flexibility and emotional flexibility,” he said.
France has banned tourists from Britain and canceled a menu of year-end celebrations. Tougher restrictions on businesses seem unlikely at the moment, however, particularly with a second round of presidential elections coming in April.
Ireland imposed an early curfew of 8 p.m. on restaurants and bars that began on Monday, while also limiting attendance at events.
In Denmark, restaurants and bars must stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m., while a slate of venues and event spaces including theaters, museums, zoos, concert halls and Tivoli, Copenhagen’s landmark amusement park, have been closed.
Switzerland’s restrictions that bar unvaccinated people from going to restaurants, gyms and museums are expected to last until Jan. 24.
In Germany, the check-in process at stores, which requires stopping everyone at the door and asking to see their vaccination certification and an ID, was cumbersome and kept shoppers away, the German Trade Association said.
Retailers surveyed by the group reported a 37 percent drop in sales compared with Christmas 2019, with an even bigger drop in the number of shoppers, threatening the future of many stores, especially smaller shops.
“After months of lockdowns, the restrictions are once again bringing many retailers to the edge of their existence,” said Stefan Genth, head of the Trade Association.
A court in the northern state of Lower Saxony last week threw out the vaccine verification restrictions there, after the Woolworth department store chain challenged them on grounds they were not fairly applied and that requiring shoppers to wear masks provided sufficient protection against the spread of coronavirus. The ruling on Thursday raised hopes that other states would follow their lead, giving a final boost to last-minute shoppers.
“Last weekend was better, but overall the shopping season has been more than depressing,” said Mark Alexander Krack, head of the Lower Saxony Trade Association. “The restaurants, theaters and cinemas all still have restrictions and that means fewer people in the city shopping.”