While Europe returns to be the epicenter of Covid-19 pandemic, one country is taking a bold step to crack down on infections: Austria.
The Western European nation has imposed a blockade – a measure many Canadians are familiar with – but with a twist: This blockade is only for the unvaccinated.
As of midnight on Monday, around two million Austrians eligible for vaccination, but not yet vaccinated, are prohibited from leaving the house except for basic activities such as working, shopping, going to school or getting vaccinated.
There have been protests across the country over the move, but how did Austria get here?
Plagued for weeks by an increase in new infections across the continent, Austria in particular has seen pressure on hospitals rise.
Only 65% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe.
Austria on Monday saw 894.3 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week, surpassing neighboring Germany, which saw 303 new cases per 100,000 residents in seven days. The Associated Press reports.
These statistics have led the Austrian Conservative government to impose a freeze on the unvaccinated, which will last until 24 November. The rule does not apply to children under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, believes the blockade of Austria likely divided the country of 8.9 million people.
“I almost fell off my chair when I read it. There is so much anger towards unvaccinated people that a lot of people’s reactions will be,” What a brilliant idea, we should do it everywhere. “That’s not my reaction,” he said. to Global News.
“Austria is another country and it is up to them to manage it as they see fit, but I sincerely hope from an ethical and human rights point of view that this kind of thing will not spread to other places.”
Bowman added that while general policy appears to be designed to encourage vaccination, it could have unintended consequences.
“It could backfire,” he said. “There is a risk of civil unrest when extreme measures of this nature are taken.”
Here’s how it will work
There is widespread skepticism in Austria, even among conservatives and the police, about how to enforce the blockade.
Essentially, officials say police patrols and checks will be stepped up and unvaccinated people could be fined up to 1,450 euros (C $ 2,073.54) if they breach the blockade.
The critics said so it will be difficult to verify in some circumstances. For example, if someone is going to work, which is allowed, or is going to shop for non-essential items, which is not.
Austria imposes blockades for people not fully vaccinated for COVID-19
The purpose of all of this is to increase vaccination, according to Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg.
“In the long run, the way out of this vicious circle we’re in – and it’s a vicious circle, we’re stumbling from one wave to another and that can’t go on indefinitely – is just vaccination,” Schallenberg told Oe1 radio on Monday.
Schallenberg called the decision a “dramatic step” that will affect some two million people in the country.
“What we are really looking for is to minimize contact between unvaccinated and vaccinated, and also contact between unvaccinated,” he said.
Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University, told Global News that people who cannot be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons could now find themselves lumped into this group.
“The reason this is a problem is aside from the issues of justice, the government seems to have said that part of the rationale for this rather draconian approach is to encourage those who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated, and that won’t help with this particular group. “, he said.
Baylis added that expanded police powers could also lead to further targeting of marginalized members of the Austrian population – a concern that supporters and citizens around the world had when rigorous blockades were implemented in the first waves of the pandemic. including Canada.
“When you give this kind of power to law enforcement, you have to be very careful and have thought about what the potential long-term implications are for minority groups, which might be scrutinized more closely than other members of society,” he said. said. .
Germany and the Netherlands are just some of the other European nations that are seeing a resurgence in COVID-19 infections.
Over the weekend, the Netherlands implemented a partial lockout that will last at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 8pm
Berlin joined on Monday with several other German jurisdictions to restrict access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have recently been vaccinated or cured. The unvaccinated, even those who tested negative, were excluded. Children under 18 are exempt.
Canada saw 88% of people 12 years of age and older receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, and 84% completed the vaccination.
However, about five million eligible Canadians are still unvaccinated, a number that needs to improve, said Dr. Barry Pakes, professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
He called on Canadians to help raise those numbers.
“We have five weeks until the Christmas break when people get together and people get together early, and this is a high-risk period that can speed up cases,” he said.
“If we take a few steps forward in vaccination beforehand, then we won’t even have to contemplate the kind of things they are talking about in Austria.”
Pakes compared Austria’s unvaccinated blockade with mandatory vaccination policies across Canada, but on a larger scale.
Canada is unlikely to be in a similar situation, he added, but Canadians should view this as an example of “what happens when we don’t do the right thing”.
We need “all tools in the toolbox”
With only 41% of the eligible world population fully vaccinated according to Johns Hopkins UniversityIt is clear to Bowman and Baylis that vaccine-dependent strategies cannot work alone right now.
“A lot of countries that rely on vaccines to get themselves out of this isn’t enough,” Bowman said.
Baylis said countries need to think about “all the tools in the toolkit”, such as mandatory masking and vaccine passports, and further adopt a global mindset.
“We really need to keep understanding two things: it’s going to be all together, so all the public health measures we had before and … the vaccination,” he said.
“If the long-term goal is to get out of the pandemic, we really need to understand that it is a global pandemic. It is a global problem and, in that context, global solutions are needed “.
– with files from Reuters and The Associated Press.
View link »
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.