No matter where you are in the world, winter is a tough time for hospitals. Immune systems are weaker in the cold, so people fall prey to illness more easily and wards fill up quick. But this winter, many northern-hemisphere countries face a worrying twin threat: the colder weather is combining with rising Covid rates and threatening to push health systems to their limit.
Many politicians and public health officials (including those at the World Health Organisation) are blaming rising Covid cases on a lack of vaccine take-up. While vaccines have significantly slowed the spread of the virus, infection rates are still high among the unvaccinated. If the disease is allowed to circulate freely among those who are either opposed or don’t have access to a vaccine, Covid could still lead to a large number of deaths and put pressure on health systems.
To prevent all that happening, some countries are taking drastic steps to clamp down on the unvaccinated. In Austria, a country with one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe (at just 65 percent), two million unvaccinated people have been placed under lockdown due to spiralling daily cases. The lockdown is being enforced by spot checks in public places, with a €500 fine for anyone who violates the restrictions.
Austria’s measures against its unvaccinated citizens might seem strict, but plenty of other countries are implementing similar – if not quite so harsh – measures. A surprise ruling in the Czech Republic means that unvaccinated citizens can no longer attend public events, nor enter restaurants or bars.
Cases have risen in recent weeks in Slovakia, too, with the country now planning stricter measures. Restaurants, shopping malls, shops selling non-essential goods, sports activities and public events will only be open to those who’ve had both jabs.
Germany has only a marginally higher vaccination rate than Austria (67 percent), and is struggling with high case rates. To combat the surge, the German states of Saxony and Berlin have banned citizens who choose not to get the jab from eating inside restaurants or going to clubs, bars, gyms, museums and hairdressers.
What’s more, a negative Covid test is no longer enough to get unvaccinated citizens in Saxony and Berlin access to public life. Only children, the medically-exempt and those who have recently recovered from Covid are unaffected by the so-called ‘2G’ rules.
Since international travel restarted earlier in the year, it has already been made much, much more difficult for unvaccinated people to travel than those who are either fully vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid. And those measures appear to be getting stricter. In France, unvaccinated arrivals from the EU now have to take a test within 24 hours before they arrive in the country, as opposed to the previous 72-hour rule.
And restrictions for the unvaccinated aren’t just limited to Europe. In New South Wales in Australia, those who haven’t got the jab are banned from visiting other people’s homes, can’t go to gyms or public swimming pools, and can only shop at designated essential stores. Meanwhile, Singapore will soon start charging hospitalised Covid-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice.
So how do you make sure you’re not one of the ones locked-down or restricted by measures aimed at the unvaccinated? It’s pretty simple: get vaccinated. Start reading the facts about the vaccine, and stop reading all that nonsense about Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s testicles. Getting the shot doesn’t just give you a better chance of beating Covid. It also makes you far less infectious if you do get it and stops the disease from spreading to more vulnerable members of society.
Restricting the mobility and freedoms of the unvaccinated might seem like a severe method of persuading citizens to get the jab and reducing the number hospitalised by Covid. But in some countries it could be the only alternative to total lockdown and overwhelmed health systems. In other words: plenty of others could well follow the example of Austria and Germany in the weeks to come.
If you’re travelling to any of these countries (or anywhere, actually), it’s always best to thoroughly check travel entry requirements before booking. Vaccination policies don’t just differ when it comes to children, the medically-exempt and those who’ve recently recovered from Covid. Rules can also vary widely depending on where you’re coming from, and the specific regions you’re visiting, too.
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