Enjoying the festive season just got a whole lot messier. It’s not just that covid restrictions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to differ from the far laxer requirements in England. It’s because rules across Europe and our favourite winter holiday destinations vary and change daily.
Anyone looking for a weekend break at a Christmas market, a flight to family elsewhere in Europe, a week at a holiday home, or a winter break on the Costas, is in for a shock.
Not surprisingly, people are getting frustrated by it all. From anti-vaxxer demos in Hull to anti-lockdown riots in Rotterdam and The Hague, Brussels, Vienna and Zagreb over the weekend, irritation is growing.
Covid cases: a national emergency in many countries once again
Austria was the first European country to introduce a ten-day lockdown for non-vaccinated people this month. It has just reintroduced a 20-day nationwide lockdown for everyone, extendable for the non-vaccinated, and announced compulsory universal vaccination, as the World Health Organization warned that Europe was fast becoming the epicentre of the pandemic.
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn says there is a “national emergency” and has reintroduced restrictive measures on unvaccinated people. Bavaria has cancelled all Christmas markets. Curfews are being brought in for unvaccinated people in some German regions as well as rolling restrictions in line with local health expert advice.
Belgium made homeworking for four days a week mandatory, much to the annoyance of employers. And everyone aged ten or over has to mask-up. In Spain, infection rates have doubled to 105 per 100,000. A mobile vaccination facility has been set up in Benidorm aimed at tourists after the recent spike in hospitalisations among unvaccinated UK tourists (UK case rates are currently 422.7 per 100,000, with no restrictions in place in England).
The Dutch introduced partial lockdowns, closed shops and cafes early, banned spectator sports, reimposed social distancing and cut the number of people allowed to meet at home. This has not gone down well in a country where celebrating St Nicklaus with the family is more important than Christmas.
More partial lockdowns are likely.
Tighter rules on vaccination and covid passes
Vaccination rates continue to vary. Spain, Denmark and Italy top the list of countries of fully vaccinated people. In Spain nearly 90 percent are fully vaccinated compared to just over two-thirds in France, Germany, the UK, and Austria.
Many countries worldwide are lowering age eligibility for inoculation – Canada, for example, is opening it to 5–11-year-olds. Many now make vaccination compulsory for healthcare workers.
Italy plans making boosters mandatory for healthcare workers and is to cut the validity of covid passes from 12 to 9 months, while also extending emergency provisions beyond the current deadline of 31 December.
France’s unvaccinated may use the covid pass to gain entry only if they pay €22 for a covid test every 72 hours. Over 65s who don’t get their boosters will find their covid passes de-activated from 15 December.
Even Sweden, which has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe – 86 per 100,000 people – plans to introduce vaccine passes for the first time from next month.
Meanwhile in the UK, which may soon find itself red-listed, the prime minister says there’s no need for tighter Plan B restrictions ‘yet’. And as if to demonstrate how little attention he pays to the science, he continues to flaunt the government guidelines that do exist, going maskless again recently on the Manchester-Warrington train.
The influence of role models: the German Bundesliga
“Boris Johnson doesn’t wear a mask, so why should I?”
Defiance of health expert advice highlights how readily the public latches onto authority figures and celebrities breaking the rules to justify deviating from them.
But with inoculation being seen as the answer to ending lockdowns and restrictions and to re-starting public participation at events, prominent anti-vaxx role models are not helpful for large organisations. An example is Germany’s top football league, the Bundesliga, which took a lead early on in supporting public health responsibility and has internationally renowned, influential role models on both sides.
The Bundesliga came out of lockdown with matches behind closed doors and cardboard cut-outs of fans on the stands, moving on to become Europe’s first top league to resume public matches. German stadiums ran at half-capacity up to a maximum of 25,000 if the local covid rate was below 35 per 100,000.
Now, in post-match chats, Union Berlin’s Max Kruse has used his position to persuade fans to get their boosters, and football managers are leaning on players, like FC Bayern’s Joshua Kimmick, to do so too.
Kimmick has been the focus of public attention as co-founder with Leon Goretzka of the WeKickCorona campaign to support charities during the first wave. But he has also dismayed health experts by setting a bad example with his public stance of vaccine hesitancy. After recent quarantine following contact with a covid-positive person, he and four of his unvaccinated team-mates, including ex-Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry, ex-Stoke City striker Erix Maxim Choupo-Moting and ex-England youth player Jamal Musiala, face their pay being cut for each day they have to self-isolate owing to refusing vaccination.
It looks increasingly likely that German clubs, and vaccinated players, will up the pressure on all players and staff to get vaccinated, demonstrating their role in publicly showing respect for the rule of law and personal responsibility towards public health.
The corrosive effect of doubt
The common strand to protests and resistance to covid restrictions is suspicion – a feeling that is reinforced when popular figures are heard to share it. People worry about the long-term effects of new vaccines, especially in places that are, for historical reasons, opposed to compulsory compliance with medical procedures. Many also have concerns that pharmaceutical companies and private interests drive over-medication of conditions for profit.
A particular anxiety is the extension of covid passes from tourism to going about normal life like supermarket shopping. There is anxiety that mandatory covid passes may be misused by governments leading to the closing of society by stealth.
Disinformation, anti-vaxx role models, and the example of a British prime minister who shows scant respect for experts and fails to follow simple instructions to wear a mask – all give grist to the mill of vaccine resistance and protest. With cases rising as they are, the risk is that restrictions will be longer and tighter, prompting more protests and violence.
So to avoid disappointment, the message everywhere is – get inoculated. The case for mutual responsibility for public health couldn’t be more pressing.