Europe sees tougher Covid controls

With the rapidly expanding Omicron variant in Europe, the French government wants to turn its Covid-19 health passport into a vaccine passport. The new measures would restrict access to certain public places only for those who show evidence of vaccination or recovery from the disease. This system has already been applied in several European countries – but it has caused controversy …

The Covid-19 health pass was introduced in France in early June to “help the French return to a normal life while minimizing the risk of contamination”. Passports – a prerequisite for accessing cafes, bars, restaurants, theaters and even long-distance transport – can be obtained if people prove that they have been vaccinated or give a negative test. But that can change.

Under a new system proposed by the French government, presenting a negative Covid-19 test, done within a 24-hour period, will no longer meet the health pass criteria. Only people who show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 could get the passport. This reform, which the government hopes will be approved and implemented by mid-January, is already being tested in several European countries, including Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Germany: From ‘3G’ to ‘2G’ models

On November 18, the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a tightening of health measures to fight Covid-19 more effectively and reduce pressure on hospitals. Germany introduced the 2G rule, for those who have been vaccinated (“geimpfte”) or those who have recovered (“genesene”) from the disease.

But this rule was not applied uniformly across the country. Each region had to use it as soon as the hospital stay threshold exceeded three Covid-19 patients per 100,000 inhabitants.

When the frequency of hospital stays exceeds six patients per 100,000 inhabitants, an even more restrictive approach is applied: 2G +, which requires an antigen test taken less than 24 hours or a negative PCR performed less than 48 hours in addition to the evidence of vaccination or recovery. This system applies to access to restaurants, bars, hotels, cultural activities and sports facilities.

The 3G rule, which requires proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (the “goat test”) performed during the last 24 hours, applies to the workplace.

Austria, Estonia, Czech Republic: A national vaccine passport

Austria has applied strict sanitation since an increase forced the country into lock-in measures at the end of November.

Since December 12, when the lifting of the lock began, the 2G rule has been applied throughout the country. Only people who have been vaccinated or have recovered in the last six months can visit restaurants, hotels, shops and gain access to rural farms and sports halls. FFP2 masks, which offer superior protection, are also mandatory in such places.

As in Germany, people without a valid 2G certificate can still go to work, provided they pass a negative test. For the rest, they are obliged to stay at home except in exceptional cases (necessary purchases, family obligations, emergency health conditions, etc.).

Several European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Malta, have also opted for a national vaccine passport. It should be noted that this is required from the age of 12 in some countries (Malta and Estonia), 15 (Austria) or sometimes only after the age of 18 (Germany).

Disputed action

Since the introduction of the 2G system in Germany, protests against the new system have erupted across the country with protesters claiming that the new rules restrict individual freedom. Some protests, such as the demonstrations on December 18 in Hamburg and Düsseldorf, gathered several thousand people.

Although opposition to health measures is a reality in Germany, Jowharcorrespondent Emmanuelle Chaze states that it does not reflect the country’s majority view. “Obviously, this measure is a source of frustration after two years of pandemic … but when Germans are interrogated, a large majority supports the government’s measures. A third of Germans would even like to see these measures go further,” she explained.

In Austria, too, the tough measures taken by the government have aroused general anger, with tens of thousands demonstrating in Vienna in mid-December.

Although this opposition is a minority, it has now been united into one political party: ‘Menschen Freiheit Grundrechte MFG (Human, Freedom, Fundamental Rights). It was created in February 2021 in response to health measures and has since managed to win seats in regional elections.

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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