Several European countries introduced new restrictions this week on people who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and there was even an announcement from Austria on Friday that COVID-19 vaccinations will become mandatory in February.
The new rules are an effort to get more people vaccinated, as COVID-19 cases rise throughout much of Europe and the northern hemisphere heads into what could be a very bleak winter for people who haven’t been inoculated against the coronavirus.
Austria, Germany, Greece, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic all rolled out new restrictions for the unvaccinated in recent days that ban them from many public spaces. And the whole world is watching as each country tries a slightly different approach to a global problem.
Austria introduced some of the strictest measures for the unvaccinated in all of Europe this past Monday, banning anyone who hasn’t been inoculated against COVID-19 from leaving their homes except for essential services. But Austria’s Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg took pandemic control a step further on Friday when he announced that vaccination against COVID-19 will be mandatory for all adults starting on February 1.
Austria, which has a total population of roughly 9 million, has a COVID-19 vaccination rate of just 64.8% and the country will enter into a national lockdown for everybody starting next week in an effort to safeguard limited hospital resources, according to UK’s Independent news outlet.
“Nobody wants a lockdown. The lockdown is the very last resort, a crude instrument,” Austria’s Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said, according to an English translation by the New York Times. “A lockdown is always an imposition, but it is the most reliable instrument we have to break this fourth wave.”
Austria reported 15,145 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the highest of the entire pandemic, and 55 new deaths.
Germany announced new restrictions on Thursday, which include banning unvaccinated people from virtually all public spaces when a region exceeds a hospitalisation rate of three patients per 100,000 people. Twelve of the country’s 16 states are currently experiencing that level of hospitalisation, according to France24.
“With the current dynamics, we are running into a very, very difficult situation, especially for all the people who work in hospitals and especially in intensive care,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, adding that the measures won’t have been necessary if Germany had a higher vaccination rate.
Germany has struggled with a vocal minority of anti-vaxxers and just 67.7% of Germany’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, significantly higher than the U.S., but one of the lower rates among wealthy countries. The U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rate currently sits at 59%, while a country like Spain has vaccinated 79.2% of its population.
Germany, a country of 83 million, reported 58,768 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 207 new deaths.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced new restrictions for the unvaccinated on Thursday, banning those who refuse to get the jab from virtually all indoor spaces, according to the Greek Reporter news outlet. The unvaccinated are now banned from gyms, movie theatres, and even church, though worshipers are allowed to present a negative COVID-19 test if they still want to go and pray without getting vaccinated.
Greece, with a population of just over 10 million people, reported 7,276 new cases on Thursday and 63 new deaths. Greece’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is just 60.6%.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced new restrictions on Wednesday that would ban the unvaccinated from most public spaces, including restaurants and concerts. An exception is made for people who’ve had covid-19 in the past six months.
The Czech Republic, which has a population of roughly 11 million, reported 14,186 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 60 deaths from the disease. Just 58.2% of the country’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Slovakia introduced new restrictions on the unvaccinated this week, barring them from most public spaces, as hospitals become overrun with COVID-19 patients, according to a new report from Al Jazeera.
Slovakia, which has a population of about 5.5 million people, reported 8,756 new cases on Thursday and 38 deaths from the disease. Only 42.7% of Slovakia’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, other countries in Europe like France insist they don’t need to impose new restrictions on the unvaccinated, but that could obviously change if cases continue to get worse across the continent. The U.S. should probably be taking notes from countries with similarly low vaccination rates, as hospitals around the country become overwhelmed. American cases are ticking upwards again, with 114,361 new cases on Thursday alone and 1,213 new deaths from the disease. And many states are running out of ICU beds, like in Minnesota where federal emergency teams from the Department of Defence are being deployed.
This pandemic isn’t going to end until the vast majority of the world is vaccinated. And that’s not going to happen anytime soon. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated against COVID-19, there’s still time and it’s free. Getting the shot is literally the least we can do to help get us back to some version of normal that doesn’t include a massive death toll every day from a disease that’s now entirely preventable.