“The EU Should Consider Mandatory Vaccines” Says European Commission President
European Commission president has urged EU countries to consider mandatory vaccines as concerns mount about the Omicron Covid variant. Ursula Von der Leyen said that the idea should be discussed by the EU’s 27 member states in response to the 59 identified cases of Omicron across these countries.
Von der Leyen, who was a doctor prior to her political career, also stressed the importance of booster doses and temporarily enforced pre-travel PCR tests. Across Europe governments have reintroduced partial lockdowns, mask mandates and social-distancing rules in an attempt to slow winter infection rates.
In Brussels, Von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the EU bloc. Some EU countries have already imposed tough – and controversial – measures to encourage vaccine uptake.
Austria sets a precedent
Austria shocked the world on November 19 when it became the first EU nation to make the vaccine mandatory for all citizens. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg confirmed that vaccination would become compulsory from February 1st next year.
In a press conference, Shallenberg said: “Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,
“Sustainably increasing the vaccination rate is the only way to get out of this vicious circle.”
Earlier that week, Austria had already imposed a lockdown for those not vaccinated, again becoming the first EU country to do so. There has been an uptake in the vaccine as a result, and around 70.38% of Austria’s almost nine million people have been vaccinated, compared to 66% just two weeks ago.
The EU average is around 67% vaccinated. Austria is also more than halfway through its fourth lockdown of the pandemic after experiencing one of the sharpest infection rises in Europe.
Germany’s chancellor-to-be, Olaf Scholz, has supported the Austrian policy and is debating whether to enforce obligatory jabs from February.
“We didn’t want a vaccine mandate, let me make that explicit,” said the minister for EU and constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler. “But 20 months on from the start of the pandemic we are in a situation that is dramatic if you look at intensive care units at hospitals.”
Fines in Greece for the unvaccinated
Greece is set to make vaccines mandatory for the over-60s from mid-January 2022 and will impose fines on those who do not get vaccinated.
Fines of €100 (£85) will be imposed at monthly intervals from January 16th.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said that the money will go towards the Greek health system, which is struggling to manage the surge in hospital admissions.
Mitsotakis labelled the vaccine as “compulsory” and admitted that the decision had “tortured” him.
There have been around 18,000 deaths caused by Covid in Greece and around 520,000 over-60s in the country are still unvaccinated.
Greece’s main opposition party, Syriza, declared the fines to be punitive and financially excessive.
When asked whether she supported the Greek government’s decision, Von der Leyen said the spread of the disease and lack of vaccine take-up in parts of the EU meant mandatory vaccination had to be discussed.
Other measures across Europe
Whilst no longer an EU country, the UK has also increased its Covid measures this week in response to the Omicron variant.
Masks are once again compulsory on public transport and in shops, and all suspected Omicron cases must isolate regardless of vaccination status. The UK is also stepping up its booster dose programme and will be offering the additional jab to everyone over-18.
Every eligible person in England should be able to book their booster by the end of January, PM Boris Johnson said.
Spain has now effectively banned travellers from the UK who aren’t fully vaccinated as from December 1, it will only accept proof of vaccination for adult entry.
In Finland, bars and restaurants refusing to use Covid certificates will no longer be allowed to serve booze after 5pm.
Lithuania has employed one of the most stringent rules in Europe, requiring all citizens over 16 to provide Covid immunity certificates to enter any public indoor premises.
This includes restaurants or cafes, shopping malls, cinemas, beauty salons among other venues, and the rule will be tightened further from the end of December when it will apply to everyone over 12.
In Budapest, the Hungarian government has made it legal for employers to make vaccinations compulsory for staff in an effort to push people to get the jab.
Most countries that have imposed mandates or restrictions have seen some pushback from some of the public with violent demonstrations in Vienna, Brussels and Amsterdam last week.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Von der Leyen said: “We have the vaccines, the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere. And this costs… This is an enormous health cost coming along.
“One-third of the European population is not vaccinated… not each and every one can be vaccinated – children, for example, or people with special medical conditions – but the vast majority could.”