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28th May 2022

Surge of infections triggers new restrictions, despite vaccination

  • The European Commission is preparing an updated set of guidelines to coordinate member states’ restrictions, especially travel measures (Photo: Prachatai)
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Covid-19 infections have been soaring to almost record levels across Europe, prompting some EU governments to reintroduce lockdown measures - despite high vaccination rates.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that another 500,000 people in the continent could die of coronavirus by March next year, unless urgent action is taken to cope with the surge in cases.

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But new rules are causing discontent among some sections of the public, which led to a wave of protests in several EU countries over the weekend, increasingly pinning the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.

Demonstrators are mainly against mandatory vaccination and the use of Covid-19 certificates – a proof of vaccination, recovery or test – at workplaces and other venues, like restaurants, bars or museums.

In the EU, the infection rate is currently highest in Latvia, Belgium, Ireland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia – which have all recorded over 1,000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the last two weeks.

Yet, the vaccination rate varies drastically among these member states.

For example, Ireland and Belgium have some of the highest vaccination rates in the EU – with more than 75 percent of its whole population fully-vaccinated.

By contrast, less than half of people in Slovakia and Croatia has received two jabs of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The European Commission, for its part, has stressed the need to increase vaccination rates to tackle the surge of cases.

"In the fight against the virus, we call to heavily implement the vaccination strategy in EU member states," a commission spokesperson told reporters on Monday (22 November).

New rules target non-vaccinated

After mulling restrictions only for the unvaccinated, Austria entered its fourth national lockdown on Monday - becoming the first country in the EU to reimpose such strict measures this autumn.

But the government has also made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all, starting in February 2022, inspiring others to consider the same approach.

Belgian deputy prime minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne has called for a "genuine social dialogue" on compulsory vaccination, while some politicians in Germany are calling for the federal and state governments to introduce mandatory jabs in order to push up the country's plateauing inoculation rate of 68 percent.

Germany's health minister Jens Spahn issued a stark warning on Monday (22 Monday), claiming that that most Germans will be "vaccinated, recovered or dead" from Covid-19 by the end of the winter, due to the more contagious Delta variant.

Under new rules, announced last week, those who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 would be banned from certain public spaces in areas with high hospital occupancy.

Similarly, new rules for the unvaccinated entered into force on Monday in Greece, where those who did not receive a jab are not allowed to enter enclosed public spaces, like gyms, bars or restaurants.

The measures were imposed after some hospitals reported more than 90-percent occupancy in UCI units, the Guardian reported.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia also banned unvaccinated people from visiting visit restaurants, hotels and or public events like sports games.

Do I need booster to travel?

Meanwhile, the EU Commission is preparing to unveil an updated set of guidelines to coordinate member states' restrictions, especially travel measures – with the aim to avoid a new potential wave of patchwork measures.

As studies show that the effect of the second dose gradually begins to wear off after some months, more and more countries are considering requesting a third shot for travelling.

In the EU, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Greece have started offering a third dose of their vaccine to citizens of all ages. And Belgium recently said that it will do so in from early 2022.

In a televised speech, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that the EU-wide Covid-19 certificate should be given only to those who have received the second or third dose in the last six months to "will avoid any crack in the wall of immunity".

Mitsotakis was the first EU leader to come up publicly with the proposal to use a coronavirus pass to travel across the bloc during the summer tourism season.

Initially, the use of the Covid-19 certificate to travel across the EU was set to last one year, but the EU executive is expected to extend its use due to the worsening situation.

Travel operators on Monday called on EU member states set up "a common approach on the eligibility as well as timing of booster doses to extend vaccination validity".

EU ministers are expected to discuss the current Covid situation on Tuesday (23 November) at their meeting in Brussels.

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