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Europe Covid: Leaders turns the screws on the unvaccinated

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Germany may become the next country to impose stricter rules on those who haven’t been fully inoculated, after the parties making up its prospective new coalition government hardened their proposed Covid-19 approach in parliament.

The proposed measures would require Germans to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to ride a bus or board a train, in an expansion of the country’s “3G” system that requires either to enter certain venues and settings.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday that the rules in effect amount to a “lockdown for the unvaccinated.”

The policy document by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens is set for a vote in the Bundestag, as the three so-called “traffic light” parties near the formation of a new government.

It comes as Germany tackles a wave of infections and reflects a growing exasperation across much of the EU at those who continue to refuse a vaccination.

About two-thirds of Germans are fully vaccinated — one of the lowest rates in western Europe — and the country’s leading politicians have turned to tough rhetoric and restrictive measures in an effort to push the rate higher.

Infections are meanwhile rising at a rapid rate. The country is nearing a seven-day rolling average of 40,000 new cases a day, its highest rate since the pandemic began and more than double the figure at the start of November.

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New restrictions on unvaccinated people came into effect in the capital Berlin on Monday. Proof of full vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 in the past 6 months is required for entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas and other entertainment venues. But the current wave of infections is mainly affecting the southern and eastern parts of the nation, where vaccine uptake is lower.

If the measures proposed by the coalition are agreed, they would move Germany closer in line with its southern neighbor Austria, where a lockdown specifically targeted at unvaccinated people came into force Monday. It bans unvaccinated people — more than a third of the country’s population — from leaving their homes except for a few specific reasons.

The measures are being enforced by police officers performing spot checks, and were unveiled alongside a serious of stern warnings from the country’s new chancellor Alexander Schallenberg. He called the nation’s vaccine uptake “shamefully low” and said those who are not inoculated will now have to experience “exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020.”

Austria, where vaccine uptake is lower than Germany, is suffering an intense wave of infections. By contrast, Spain and Portugal have avoided the brunt of the winter wave after posting the highest vaccination rates in Europe.

A Christmas market in Innsbruck, Austria on Monday, during the first day of a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people.

Britain set to require boosters

Other nations in Europe are adopting measures designed to improve vaccine takeup. On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson all but confirmed that a third, booster vaccine shot would soon be required to be considered fully vaccinated.

“It’s very clear that getting three jabs — getting your booster — will become an important fact and it will make life easier for you in all sorts of ways, and we will have to adjust our concept of what constitutes a full vaccination to take account of that,” Johnson said at a press conference.

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That step has already been taken in France, where cases are inching up. The country introduced stricter entry rules this week on unvaccinated travelers from 16 EU countries.

Tensions are rising in some parts of the bloc; in Athens, public health sector workers protested on Monday over pay and conditions amid increasing pressure on Greek hospitals.

Greece has posted record Covid-19 case figures on several occasions this month. The country made vaccinations mandatory for health care staff in July, but protesters say that move led to a staffing backlog that has not been filled, Reuters reported.

“The stretchers at the hospitals on duty are increasing by the dozens, (and) patients are being chosen for intensive care units by priority, based on their ages,” Michalis Giannakos, the president of the Public Hospital Workers Federation, told Reuters.