The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

Live Covid updates: In Greece, unvaccinated people 60 and up face monthly fines

Associated Press Monday, 17 January 2022, 09:21 Last update: about 5 months ago

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece imposed a vaccination mandate Monday for people 60 and older, as the country's vaccination rate remains below the European Union average and a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals.

Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.

About two-thirds of Greece’s 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70%. But COVID-19 deaths and daily hospitalizations have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, though pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.

“The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service,” Plevris told private Open TV on Sunday.

Greece imposed a vaccination mandate for health care workers last year. And starting Feb. 1, vaccination certificates for adults will expire after seven months unless the holder receives a booster shot.

New infections surged sharply in early January but have eased over the past week.

The vaccination mandate for the 60 and older age group was announced in late December and, according to government data, 41.5% of the 530,000 people targeted by the measure are now fully vaccinated. Opinion polls suggest strong public support for the mandate, but some lawmakers across party lines have questioned the legality of singling out a specific group. The government defended the measure as constitutional, citing a 2020 high court decision allowing public day care centers to refuse children who had not been vaccinated for childhood illnesses.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities on Monday reported a sharp spike in new coronavirus cases, apparently driven by the rapid spread of the omicron variant health officials warned about last week.

The country's state coronavirus task force registered 30,726 new infections over the last 24 hours, which is twice as many as 15,830 just a week ago and the highest daily tally since early December. The task force has also reported 670 deaths.

The omicron variant spreads much more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant.

Infections in Russia steadily climbed all of last week, and officials sounded the alarm about a looming surge of cases driven by omicron's rapid spread.

Anna Popova, head of Russia's public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, has warned that daily new cases might reach six-figure levels, and President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has “a couple of weeks” to prepare for the unprecedented surge.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Friday that omicron is responsible for nearly half of all new infections in the capital. On Monday, new virus cases in the city surpassed 7,000.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has registered over 10.8 million confirmed infections and 321,990 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Russia had only one nationwide lockdown, in 2020, and in October 2021, many Russians were ordered to stay off work for a week amid a jump in infections and deaths. However, authorities have generally resisted shutting down businesses or imposing any tough restrictions.

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PARIS (AP) — France's parliament approved a law Sunday that will exclude unvaccinated people from all restaurants, sports arenas and other venues, the central measure of government efforts to protect hospitals amid record numbers of infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

The National Assembly adopted the law by a vote of 215-58. Centrist President Emmanuel Macron had hoped to push the bill through faster, but it was slightly delayed by resistance from lawmakers both on the right and left and hundreds of proposed amendments.

More than 91% of French adults are already fully vaccinated, and some critics have questioned whether the "vaccine pass" will make much of a difference.

Macron's government is hoping the new pass will be enough to limit the number of patients filling up strained hospitals nationwide without resorting to a new lockdown. New confinement measures would strike another blow to the economy — and could also cloud Macron's chances of reelection in the April 10 presidential vote.

Up to now, a COVID-19 pass has been required in France to go to restaurants, movie theaters, museums and many sites throughout the country, but unvaccinated people have been allowed in if they show a recent negative test or proof of recent recovery.

The new law requires full vaccination for such venues, including tourist sites, many trains and all domestic flights, and applies to everyone 16 and over. Some exceptions could be made for those who recently recovered from COVID-19. The law also imposes tougher fines for fake passes and allows ID checks to avoid fraud.

More than 76% of French ICU beds are occupied by virus patients, most of them unvaccinated, and some 200 people with the virus are dying every day. Like many countries, France is in the grip of the omicron variant, recording more than 2,800 positive cases per 100,000 people over the past week.

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HELSINKI (AP) — Denmark lifted a number of coronavirus restrictions and allowed the reopening of certain venues Sunday despite the spread of the omicron variant in the country.

Cinemas, zoos, museums and theaters were among the places that could welcome visitors again. Limited numbers of spectators also were allowed to attend indoor and outdoor sports events.

Visitors are required to wear masks at most of these places and provide proof that they have been vaccinated or have recovered or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

The government is planning to relax coronavirus restrictions further in Denmark, a country of 5.8 million, on Jan. 31.

Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told reporters earlier this week that the government was monitoring the pandemic situation carefully and "wouldn't have supported the reopening if it hadn't been for a clear approach both from our own and from external experts."

The omicron variant is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to early studies. Omicron spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Wednesday that lifting of the restrictions was based on the recommendations by the government's own health expert advisory group — the Epidemic Commission — and that her Cabinet "intends to follow the recommendations" of the panel.

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BERLIN (AP) — The Austrian government on Sunday presented revised plans for its proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which it said will now apply to all residents age 18 and over, rather than 14 as originally intended. Officials said that a phased introduction will give people plenty of opportunity to comply.

The government announced nearly two months ago that it would implement a general vaccine mandate early this year, becoming the first European country to do so. In early December, it produced a first draft, calling for the measure to be introduced in February and foreseeing fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,100) for people who flout it.

Key aspects of the plan remain in the final version, which the government aims to have parliament approve on Thursday, but officials said consultations with two opposition parties and others showed the need for significant changes to details. Chancellor Karl Nehammer said there had been concern about teenagers being punished, hence the change in the lower age limit.

The bill "is conceived in such a way that it responds to the flexibility of the virus," Nehammer told reporters in Vienna.

The plan is for the vaccine mandate to become law at the beginning of February. In the first phase, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules. Pregnant women and people who for medical reasons can't be vaccinated will be exempted; so will people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection in the past six months.

From mid-March, police will start checking people's vaccination status during routine checks; people who can't produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($685) if they don't.

If authorities judge vaccination progress still to be insufficient, they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated, Nehammer said. If that still doesn't work, people would be sent a vaccination appointment and fined if they don't keep it. Officials hope they won't need to use the last measure. Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.

 

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