europe

EU chief urges countries to consider mandatory vaccines amid variant fears



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Europe’s top official said Wednesday it was time to “think about mandatory vaccination” as the fast-spreading Omicron variant darkened forecasts and deepened fears of another difficult winter.

Rising infection rates have already seen European governments reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospitalisations, but leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.

In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the bloc—although only individual member states can impose vaccine mandates.

Austria has already said it will make Covid-19 jabs compulsory next February, Germany is mulling following suit and Greece on Tuesday said it will mandate vaccines for over-60s.

While it could take weeks to prove how infectious and resistant to current vaccines Omicron is, many countries have rushed to ramp up existing programmes, seeing them as the best line of defence.

From Wednesday, every adult in Italy became eligible for a Covid booster shot, previously only open to those aged over 40. Non-EU members Britain and Norway had already promised booster shots to all adults before the end of January and Easter respectively.

The UK government said late Wednesday it has ordered 114 million additional Covid-19 vaccine doses, from pharmaceutical giants Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to bolster its jabs drive over the next two years.

The country has set a two-month target to give third doses to all adults aged over 18, after broadening eligibility and halving to three months the time needed since getting a previous jab.

So far, some two dozen countries and territories have detected Omicron cases, including Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Portugal and the US.

Global economic body the OECD warned Omicron threatens the world’s recovery and lowered growth estimates for 2021 from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent.

The Paris-based organisation said the recovery had “lost momentum and is becoming increasingly imbalanced” and would remain “precarious” until vaccines were deployed worldwide.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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