Europe’s COVID crisis pits vaccination vs. unvaccinated

Brussels (Associated Press)-This should be Christmas in Europe, and family and friends can embrace holiday celebrations again. On the contrary, as cases in many countries soar to record levels, the African continent is the global center of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the restrictions imposed for the past two years, as the number of infections has surged again, the health crisis has increasingly caused conflicts between citizens and citizens-vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The government, which urgently needs to protect the overburdened healthcare system, is implementing rules that restrict the choices of unvaccinated people, hoping that doing so will increase vaccination rates.

Austria went a step further on Friday, with mandatory vaccination from February 1.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schellenberg said: “For a long time, maybe too long, I and others thought it must be possible to convince the Austrian people to voluntarily vaccinate them.”

He called this move “the only way for us to get rid of this vicious circle of virus waves and blocking discussions.”

So far, although Austria is unique in the EU in terms of mandatory vaccination, more and more governments are taking measures.

Starting Monday, Slovakia has banned people who have not been vaccinated from entering all non-essential stores and shopping centers. They will also not be allowed to participate in any public events or gatherings, and must be tested twice a week before they can go to work.

“Merry Christmas does not mean Christmas without COVID-19,” warned Prime Minister Eduard Heger. “To do this, Slovakia needs a completely different vaccination rate.”

He called these measures “a blockade of those who have not been vaccinated.”

In Slovakia, only 45.3% of the population of 5.5 million were vaccinated, and a record 8,342 new virus cases were reported on Tuesday.

It is not just Central and Eastern European countries that are suffering again. Western rich countries have also been hit hard, and once again imposed restrictions on their populations.

German Chancellor Merkel said on Thursday: “Now is really, absolutely time to take action.” With a vaccination rate of 67.5%, her country is now considering mandatory vaccination for many health professionals.

Greece has also targeted the unvaccinated population. On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Kiriakos Mizotakis announced a series of new restrictions on people who have not been vaccinated. Even if their test results are negative, they will not be allowed to go to bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and Stadiums and other places.

Mizotakis said: “This is a direct protective behavior, of course, it is also an indirect urge to vaccinate.”

These restrictions angered Clare Daly, the Irish EU legislator, who is a member of the Civil Liberties and Justice Committee of the European Parliament. She believes that the state is trampling on individual rights.

Daly said: “In many cases, member states exclude people from going to work,” he called Austria’s restrictions on unvaccinated people before Friday’s decision to implement a total lockdown as “a terrible situation”.

Even in Ireland, where 75.9% of the population was vaccinated, she felt a strong opposition to persistence.

“There is almost a kind of hate speech against people who have not been vaccinated,” she said.

Many countries in the world have a history of mandatory vaccination against diseases such as smallpox and polio. However, although the global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 5 million, and despite the overwhelming medical evidence that vaccines can highly prevent deaths or serious diseases caused by COVID-19 and slow the spread of the pandemic, some of the population still stubbornly oppose vaccination .

This week, about 10,000 people chanted “freedom, freedom” and gathered in Prague to protest the restrictions imposed by the Czech government on unvaccinated people.

“No individual freedom is absolute,” retorted Paul De Grauwe, a professor at the London School of Economics. “The freedom not to be vaccinated needs to be restricted to ensure that others enjoy the freedom of health,” he wrote for the liberal think tank Liberales.

This principle is now alienating friends from each other and dividing families in European countries.

Birgitte Schoenmakers, a general practitioner and professor at the University of Leuven, sees it almost every day.

“This has become a war between the people,” she said.

She saw the political conflicts caused by people deliberately spreading conspiracy theories, and she also saw strong human stories. One of her patients was kept away from their parents’ home for fear of vaccinations.

Schoemakers said that although the authorities have long rejected the idea of ​​mandatory vaccination, the highly contagious delta variant is changing people’s thinking.

“It is very difficult to turn around on this matter,” she said.

The combination of the surge in infections and measures to control them will usher in the second consecutive severe holiday in Europe.

Leuven has cancelled the Christmas market, and in nearby Brussels, a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree was placed in the center of the city’s stunning Grand Place on Thursday, but the decision to continue the festival market in the Belgian capital will depend on it. The virus surged.

Paul Villendils, who donated the tree, hopes to restore the traditional Christmas look.

“We are very happy to see that they are working hard to erect this tree and decorate it. This is the beginning,” he said. “After nearly two years of hardship, I think it’s a good thing that some more normal things in life happen again.”

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