European leaders’ patience with people who are not immune continues to decline as the number of infections rises. This can be seen by their language getting stronger. For example, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz wants to “defend Germany against antivirals”. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently criticized the anti-willful extremism movement for the first time in strong terms. According to him, he declares “nonsense” on social media. “This is wrong and completely counterproductive,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron even used the word “bucket” (something like “annoying”) last week when he spoke about vulnerable people, making it clear that he wanted to annoy them. Surely this will also happen in practice. The French Senate this week approved the introduction of a so-called 2G policy: anyone who has not been fully vaccinated will not enter a café, restaurant, theater or public transport, even with a negative test. Those who received their last vaccination more than seven months ago need a booster to be considered ‘fully immunized’.
In Germany, the “2G-plus rule” often already applies to the catering industry: only booster vaccines are allowed in. People who have been cured of corona or who have been vaccinated “normally” need to test negative.
Partial vaccination commitment
Meanwhile, Italy has already embarked on a partial vaccination commitment. Residents aged 50 or over must be able to prove that they have been vaccinated, otherwise they risk a fine of €100. Greeks over the age of 60 must pay this amount each month if they do not receive their first injection by mid-January.
But the biggest leap is made by the government of Austria, where a ban on unvaccinated people is in place and where the general vaccination obligation will apply from February 1. At least, if you can meet that deadline.
According to Tomas Chebionka, who studies the relationship between health, economics and politics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Vienna, the chance is slim. He says technical obstacles alone are causing delays. “Registration of people who are exempt from the duty to vaccinate, for example for medical reasons, is still a big problem. This data can only be processed administratively in April.”
Moreover, from a legal point of view, everything is not settled yet. Until the beginning of this week, civil society organizations were able to provide feedback on the proposed law on compulsory vaccination. And according to Czypionka, this has been used a lot. Organizations, for example, point out that the law was passed too quickly and that there are not enough safeguards in the field of data privacy. Parliament shall study the important notes and may require amendments if necessary.
A fine of up to 3,600 euros
However, Chebunka expects parliament to pass the law soon, as the majority has so far voted in favor of compulsory vaccination. If that really happened, Austrians aged 14 and over would have to be vaccinated against Corona. Anyone who refuses to do so risks a fine of up to 3,600 euros. To date, more than 1 million people in Austria have not been vaccinated. “Can you imagine how much administrative headache it would be to fine all unvaccinated people. If these people then go to court en masse to challenge the fine, the whole legal system will stop.”
The researcher believes that the Austrian government would have preferred to make vaccination mandatory only for healthcare workers, as is the case in a number of other European countries. Had this been done in time, it could have eased the pressure on healthcare.
Chibionka thinks some of the unvaccinated will still get pricked by commitment, but that other part will put their heels in the sand. He sees more divisions and extremism in Austrian society even before the duty takes effect. “We are seeing more and more people joining the protests. Last weekend, 40,000 people gathered here in Vienna, which is a huge turnout given the cold weather.”
Meanwhile, other countries are watching developments in Austria closely. The old German government announced a commitment to vaccinate from February, but the new government that has just taken office – perhaps spurred in part by conflicts in neighbours – is in no hurry at the moment.
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