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As Cases of COVID-19 Rise Throughout Europe, Countries Take Different Approaches by Bridget Ryder

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As Cases of COVID-19 Rise Throughout Europe, Countries Take Different Approaches

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced drastic measures to combat the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases in the country. Forbes reported that unvaccinated people in Germany will be banned from most public places and businesses, and that limitations on the number of people in certain indoor spaces such as nightclubs will also be enforced. Mandatory vaccination could go into effect early next year, pending parliamentary approval. 

The German Chancellor’s decision follows on the heels of European Union Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen’s message to reporters on Wednesday that it was time to “think about mandatory vaccination.” In her personal opinion, “it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now.”

Euroactiv reports that von der Leyen is expected to bring up the subject at a summit scheduled for December 16th and 17th. 

Austria and Greece, sites of increasing cases and relatively low vaccination rates —65% and 61% respectively—plan to fine those who resist vaccination. Austria had a case rate of 2,137 per 100,000 on December 1st, and Greece was at 912 per 100,000, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.  

Slovakia, which has a vaccination rate of 46%, is considering using incentives to increase vaccinations, Euroactiv reported. Former Prime Minister and current Minister of Finance Igor Matovič proposed the idea to offer €500 to those over the age of 60 who register for their first dose of the vaccine by Christmas, according to Euroactiv. He brought the proposal forward as an alternative to a punitive vaccine mandate. But one party in the four-party government coalition opposes the measure. Chairman of the Freedom and Solidarity party Richard Sulík told Euractiv that the four parties had agreed on a €150 incentive and that his party would not support the €500 proposal. To pass the incentive in Parliament, Matovič will need opposition support, and the opposition’s stance is not yet known, according to Euractiv. 

But there are sceptics about the benefits policy. Matej Šucha, a behavioral consultant, told Euractiv that such measures are not guaranteed to work. “The biggest problem with this and other measures, especially from the Minister of Finance, is that they are based on assumptions and feelings. We do not know whether €500 will work better than €100, or whether it will work at all,” said Šucha.

With vaccination rates of approximately 80%, Spain and Portugal are experiencing rising cases more slowly than other countries. In Portugal, cases were at 406 per 100,000 on December 1st, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Spain had a reported rate of 305 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday.  But to combat the increasing number of cases, Portugal and Spain have implemented COVID-passport requirements. Portugal has also reactivated border controls. 

Portugal entered into a ‘state of calamity’ on Wednesday. Though a step below the more serious ‘state of emergency,’ it allows the government to impose certain restrictions, in this case related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital COVID passport is also required to enter all restaurants, hotels, tourists lodgings, and events—including private ones. A week of teleworking will be required at the beginning of January. To get into a nightclub or bar, a negative test is also required.

Through January 9th, air travelers entering Portugal will have to present proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test. Restrictions also apply to crossing the Spanish border. Citizens from European countries in low or moderate risk need to present a certificate of vaccination to enter Portugal and those from high risk areas will have to present both proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test or face a fine of up to €800.

In Spain, parts of the country have started to require COVID passports in certain public places and activities. After the initial hard lockdown of the country at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the Spanish government put regulating most COVID-related restrictions into the hands of autonomous communities. Now, 8 of these 17 regions have started requiring digital COVID-passports to enter public places such as restaurants, nightclubs, event venues, and halls rented for private celebrations. 

Restaurateurs in Spain have had mixed reactions to the measures, some calling it a lesser evil than other restrictions, and others expressing concerns about vagaries of enforcement and even legality of COVID-passport requirements for their establishments, as some restrictions put in place earlier in the pandemic have since been declared unconstitutional, including the initial hard lockdown in March of 2020 and a subsequent six-month long state of alarm without parliamentary controls.  Technical experts from Spain’s Ministry of Health see the measure as a good incentive towards vaccination and a reminder that caution is still needed, but didn’t think restricting public sites to COVID-passport holders would stop the spread of the virus.

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.

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