Countries are going all-in on virtually forcing citizens to get vaccinated: From the French President openly acknowledging his readiness to make life unpleasant for the unvaccinated to un-jabbed Canadians not qualifying for unemployment benefits to Greeks imposing monthly fines on the unvaccinated.
PARIS — Last year, as vaccination campaigns went into full swing across the world, governments and health authorities found creative ways to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, from VIP testimonials to lotteries to donuts.
But as several parts of the globe are experiencing huge surges in infections with the Delta and Omicron variants, we seem to be past the time for celebrity endorsements and free snacks. Or as a public health official in Hong Kong said recently: “enough carrots, time for the stick.”
While restrictions on movement and social distancing used to affect all citizens, now more and more countries are implementing or discussing the enforcement of tougher rules specifically targeting unvaccinated citizens to avoid new waves of infections and overwhelmed hospitals.
Canada’s Minister of Employment Carla Qualtrough has recently warned that authorities could deny unemployment benefits to unvaccinated people who lose their jobs, Radio Canada reports. Only those with a medical exemption are excluded from these restrictions. Qualtrough said the policy will be implemented “as long as the collective public health of Canadians is jeopardized,” to both boost vaccination and keep workplaces free of coronavirus outbreaks.
In Quebec, the Journal de Montreal is also reporting this week that the Canadian province could prevent unvaccinated citizens from accessing stores of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), the entity owned by the provincial government with a legal monopoly on alcohol distribution, as well as stores of its subsidiary, the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC). This would extend even further the vaccine passport that is currently required to access nonessential shops, bars and restaurants and cultural venues.
Across the Atlantic, Austria, which had one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe at the end of 2021, implemented a lockdown for unvaccinated people in November, banning them from leaving their homes except for limited reasons, like working or buying food. The lockdown was then extended to the whole population, before restrictions were eased for vaccinated citizens in December.
Lockdowns will continue until vaccination is compulsory — probably ‘forever’
Since then, the Austrian government has extended the lockdown solely for unvaccinated people until Jan. 10, with restrictions that have to be renewed every ten days. “It is becoming more and more apparent that the lockdown for unvaccinated people will continue until vaccination is compulsory — probably ‘forever’,” writes Austrian daily Heute.
A similar lockdown has been implemented this week in Manila, the Philippines’ capital city, to ban unvaccinated residents from leaving their residence except to buy essential goods, go to work, and for other essential activities.
Ghana introduced some of Africa’s strictest travel rules last December, banning any adult who has not been vaccinated from flying and requiring all people entering the country to be vaccinated. No option to self-isolate will be offered. Airlines that carry unvaccinated passengers or people who test positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Kotoka International Airport will face a fine of $3,500 per passenger. The United Arab Emirates will also ban unvaccinated citizens from traveling abroad from Jan. 10.
At a demonstration against vaccines and the COVID passport in Barcelona, Spain
Expansion of vaccine mandates
The Vatican, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Indonesia were among the first countries last year to make vaccination compulsory, and now more countries are implementing thorough vaccine mandates.
In Europe, French lawmakers are currently conducting heated debates concerning the legislation to turn the country’s current “pass sanitaire” into a vaccine passport, Le Monde reports. If the bill passes, proof of a negative COVID-19 test would no longer be sufficient to go to bars and restaurants or access a number of cultural activities — people would need proof of full vaccination.
France had already implemented vaccine mandates for health workers last September, with Germany recently following in its footsteps. The country could go one step further and follow Austria’s example, which will be the first EU country to introduce mandatory vaccinations for all citizens, with exemptions for medical reasons, starting in February 2022.
Italy was the first European country to impose the same type of mandate in April 2021 for health staff, before extending it last December to police, teachers and emergency services workers. The Italian government is meeting this week to discuss changes to the nationwide coronavirus measures, including a potential expansion of its “Super Green Pass” to 23 million employees in the country, or a possible vaccine mandate for all Italians over 18, Il Giorno reports.
In South America, Ecuador recently became the first country to make vaccines compulsory for children as young as five years old, to fight a rise in new cases after the Omicron variant, La Nacion reports.
Facing fines and penalties
In Greece, the government announced at the end of last year that unvaccinated people over 60 who did not book an appointment to get a jab before Jan. 16 will face a monthly 100-euro fine, I Kathimeriní reports. The measure appears to be successful: about 60,000 seniors booked appointments to get the vaccine within a week of the announcement.
"Unvaccinated by choice" are a sizeable majority of those who require intensive in-patient care
Austria also plans to impose fines up to €3,600 on people who refuse to get the vaccine after the jabs will become mandatory next February.
In Asia, Singapore's government has been covering the medical expenses of COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic. But it has recently been announced that starting in December, it would stop paying medical treatment for patients who are “unvaccinated by choice,” arguing that they “make up a sizeable majority of those who require intensive in-patient care and disproportionately contribute to the strain on our healthcare resources.”
While Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the city state is preparing to face an Omicron wave, with the variant currently accounting for 17% of local cases.
These restrictions have rekindled the individual freedom vs public safety debate, and over how far governments are willing to go to push citizens to get vaccinated. Whether these specific measures or mandates will actually force the hand of people to get vaccinated, especially no-vaxxers who have fiercely opposed the jabs until then, remain to be seen.