COVID-19 cases are on the rise again as the cold weather helped its spread. European countries are trying to curb the spike through different means, including introducing lockdowns for the unvaccinated and limiting access to certain services. They are also pushing for an increase in vaccination rates.
While around 60 percent of people are fully vaccinated in Western Europe, only half as many have been vaccinated in the eastern part of the continent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that coronavirus deaths in Europe rose five percent in the week of November 7, making it the only region in the world with increased death rates.
European countries are now putting more pressure on their unvaccinated citizens.
Austria imposed a general lockdown beginning Monday, November 22, as the country faces a COVID-19 resurgence. Conservative Chancellor Alexander Schallenderg said that vaccination will become compulsory beginning February 1, 2022.
The announcement came a few days after the country implemented a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated citizens. Individuals 12 years and older have been banned from stepping out of their homes except for essential activities such as work, attending classes, grocery shopping or exercise.
Those who are found to break these tyrannical rules could pay up to €1,450 ($1,636) in fines.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), a little over 64 percent of Austrians had been fully vaccinated as of November 19 – slightly below the European Union average of 65.5. The COVID-19 cases were also rising, hitting a daily total of 15,000 on November 18.
Austrian authorities said on November 17 that travelers will now need to show a negative PCR test upon entering the country, whereas lateral flow tests were allowed previously. (Related: Austria tightens border controls as coronavirus cases reach 2,000.)
Germany is also planning to introduce tighter COVID-19 restrictions for their unvaccinated citizens, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel. On November 18, the country's lower house of parliament voted in favor of new restrictions to curb the surge in cases. Germany's lawmakers also plan on including new restrictions for the workplace and public transport.
Health authorities issued a warning when over 65,000 new cases were reported in a single day. Robert Koch Institute Director Lothar Wieler said that the country is on the way to a serious emergency. "We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don't take countermeasures now."
He also called for a significant increase in vaccination rates to be well above 75 percent from its current rate at 67.7 percent. Some German regions have rates as low as 57.6 percent.
Weiler is also urging to limit citizen freedom by calling for the closure of bars and clubs, as well as an end to large-scale events and for other places to be restricted to those with vaccines or recovery certificates. The country is even going as far as canceling all of its renowned Christmas markets.
Unvaccinated people will be subjected to a "de facto lockdown," in which only vaccinated individuals are allowed to enter restaurants, cinemas, concert halls and sporting events. The unvaccinated people will also have to limit their contacts to five people from two households.
Greece, meanwhile, announced new restrictions that aimed at putting additional pressure on those who have not been vaccinated. These mandates include tougher limits on access to non-essential indoor venues and seven-month expiration dates on passes for over 60-year-olds who haven't received their booster shots.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he believes these extreme measures will "help" those who remain hesitant to get vaccinated. He said that beginning November 22, all unvaccinated adult citizens can't enter indoor areas like cinemas, theatres, museums ang gyms even if they carry negative test results.
Greece now has its highest rate of confirmed cases since the pandemic started, and its death rate is at the worst level in six months. While around two-thirds of the Greek population has been fully vaccinated, the numbers vary wildly around the country. Northern regions have very low vaccination rates, with some falling under 50 percent.
Overall, Europe is still the most seriously affected by the pandemic, with the WHO warning that there will be a "hard winter ahead" for Europeans this year.
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