On Monday, major protests were held in Germany against the coronavirus restrictions. In Italy, a new tough vaccine requirement was in force. This came as European governments tightened their rules in an effort to contain the Omicron variant.
The developments in two nations where cases are rising fast — up 91 percent over the past two weeks in Germany, and more than 300 percent over the same period in Italy — encapsulate the tensions in European countries where leaders are doubling down on Covid vaccinations and boosters, beginning to make them all but mandatory.
According to official data, more people in the European Union are fully vaccinated than the rest. This is despite the fact that 75 percent of those in Italy and 72 percent in Germany have been vaccinated. Because vaccines offer protection against severe illness, death, and Omicron variants, governments are increasingly seeing those who have not been vaccinated as obstacles to taking other painful measures such as locking down.
The challenge was expressed in harsh language last week by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who said in a newspaper interview that he wanted to “piss off” the millions of his compatriots who have declined the shots by barring them from public spaces. On Saturday, thousands protested against a government proposal to ban unvaccinated people in public places.
Vienna was also a hotbed for vaccine skeptics. The entire adult population will have to receive Covid shots starting next month.
Germany is home to a militant anti-vaccination group with links to the far right. Social restrictions and rules that exclude the unvaccinated from most of public life have prompted protests large on Mondays. This day has particular resonance since weekly demonstrations helped to bring down the Berlin Wall. In recent weeks, thousands of protestors marched through cities and towns throughout the country, some of them turning violent.
Last Monday, in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, some 50,000 people took part in 170 marches. In the eastern state of Thuringia, the police in the town of Sömmerda used tear gas against a group of protesters. In Lichtenstein, a town in neighboring Saxony, 14 police officers were wounded in an attack by demonstrators, with one suffering a bite wound and another having to fend off an assailant who went for the officer’s weapon.
The recently elected chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has asked Germans to respect the restrictions and to get inoculated, and he used a New Year’s speech to rebut misinformation that the shots were unsafe. German lawmakers are expected soon to begin discussing legislation that would make vaccinations mandatory nationwide, but some members of Mr. Scholz’s coalition government are wary of the possible backlash.
Italy, where vaccine opponents are less vocal, has a new rule that will take effect Monday. It requires all employees in the public and private sectors to be vaccinated against Covid, or be able show that they have recovered from this disease. Those who don’t meet the requirement by Feb. 1 could be suspended from work, part of the latest restrictions introduced by the government of one of Europe’s worst-affected nations to curb the steep rise of infections and mitigate the impact on hospitals.
Omicron has seen a doubled case rate in the past week. The Italian government has placed restrictions on older workers due to their greater vulnerability to serious illness. These workers could have frequent P.C.R. These employees could take P.C.R. tests, which, if negative allowed them to enter their workplaces.
On Monday, Italy also implemented new measures that ban unvaccinated persons from offices, banks, public transport, outdoor dining, hotels and ski lifts.
Source: NY Times