News Coronavirus Countries clamp down on unvaccinated as Europe becomes epicentre of pandemic
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Countries clamp down on unvaccinated as Europe becomes epicentre of pandemic

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European governments are taking a hard-line stance against anti-vaxxers as infection numbers surge to record levels in many countries and threaten to ruin Christmas.

The continent has become the global epicentre of the pandemic at a time when families had been hoping to once again embrace holiday festivities, and one another.

With infections spiking again despite nearly two years of restrictions, the health crisis is increasingly pitting citizen against citizen — the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.

Governments desperate to shield overburdened healthcare systems are imposing rules that limit choices for the unvaccinated in the hope doing so will drive up rates of vaccination.

Despite overwhelming medical evidence that vaccines protect against death or serious illness and slow the pandemic’s spread, opposition remains stubbornly strong among parts of the population.

In the Netherlands, protests this weekend turned into riots and police opened fire on crowds when a demonstration turned into what Rotterdam’s mayor called an “an orgy of violence”.

It was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the Netherlands since coronavirus restrictions were first imposed last year.

Anti-lockdown protests are also gearing up in Austria where the government became the first European country to make vaccinations mandatory as of February 1 next year.

“For a long time, maybe too long, I and others thought that it must be possible to convince people in Austria, to convince them to get vaccinated voluntarily,” Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said.

He called the move “our only way to break out of this vicious cycle of viral waves and lockdown discussions for good.”

While Austria so far stands alone in the European Union in making vaccinations mandatory, more and more governments are reintroducing tough restrictions on the unjabbed.

Starting on Monday, Slovakia is banning people who have not been vaccinated from all non-essential stores and shopping malls.

They will not be allowed to attend any public event or gathering, and will be required to test twice a week just to go to work.

“A merry Christmas does not mean a Christmas without COVID-19,” warned Prime Minister Eduard Heger.

“For that to happen, Slovakia would need to have a completely different vaccination rate.”

He called the measures “a lockdown for the unvaccinated”.

Slovakia, where just 45.3 per cent of the 5.5 million population is fully vaccinated, reported a record 8342 new virus cases on Tuesday.

It is not only the nations of central and eastern Europe that are suffering.

Wealthy countries in the west also are being hit hard and imposing restrictions on their populations once again.

“It is really, absolutely, time to take action,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.

With a doubled-dosed rate of 67.5 per cent, her nation is now considering mandatory vaccinations for many health professionals.

Greece, too, is targeting the unvaccinated. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has announced a battery of new restrictions for the unvaccinated, keeping them out of bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and gyms — even if they have tested negative.

Thousands rally in Australia

Melbourne’s turnout was larger than the other capital cities. Photo: AAP

In Australia, a persistent number of people have maintained public opposition to vaccine mandates and lockdowns even as vaccination rates climb ever higher.

On Saturday, thousands of people joined peaceful rallies in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide and the greatest number in Melbourne.

The demonstrators in Victoria loosely comprise groups who oppose COVID-19 vaccines, mandates and the state’s proposed pandemic laws, which stalled in the upper house this week.

Watched on by police, they chanted “kill the bill” and yelled “sack Dan Andrews” while carrying placards featuring a range of anti-government and anti-vaccine mandate slogans.

The crowd grew to several thousand at the gardens, where a band played John Farnham’s You’re the Voice.

Tempers flare at a largely peaceful protest in Melbourne on Saturday. Photo: AAP

Victoria Police said despite significant numbers in attendance, the protest was peaceful with only one arrest made.

In Sydney, police say about 10,000 protesters marched through the city centre to voice their concerns, while smaller demonstrations also took place at Newtown and Newcastle.

No arrests were made and no infringement notices were issued.

-with AAP