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Italy makes Covid shots mandatory for over 50s, Macron targets unvaccinated

About 2.3 million Italians will need to get vaccinated by mid-June or face getting fined. It's just the latest measure by European leaders to slow down the omicron wave.

(CN) — With infections exploding globally due largely to the more contagious but less severe omicron variant, Italy has become the first major country to make vaccination mandatory for anyone over the age of 50 and France is seeking to tighten even further rules against the unvaccinated.

The number of new cases of Covid-19 being detected in Europe and the United States is astronomical. In Europe, 1.2 million new cases were reported on Wednesday and more than 704,000 people tested positive in the U.S. Globally, more than 2.5 million cases were reported in the past 24 hours, by far the highest ever for a single day.

Despite the massive increase, omicron appears to be causing less severe sickness and the number of deaths globally has not risen, though deaths are rising in some countries.

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned against taking omicron lightly.

“We do know that omicron is causing less severe disease, but it doesn't mean it is just a mild disease,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on the pandemic, during a news briefing from the agency's headquarters in Geneva.

“Omicron is not the common cold; it can still cause severe disease, particularly among people who are not vaccinated,” she said.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's chief of emergencies, called it “wishful thinking” to hope the emergence of omicron signals the end of the pandemic because the virus is mutating in such a way as to become less severe.

“There is still a lot of energy in this virus,” he said. “There is still plenty of opportunity, unfortunately, for this virus to spread and to generate new variants.”

He added that omicron remains a major threat because billions of people around the world have not been able to get vaccinated due to vaccine hoarding by richer countries.

With the spread of the virus accelerating so fast, Italy's government on Wednesday took the step to force anyone over the age of 50 to get vaccinated by the middle of June or face 100 euro ($112) fines.

Italy had already made vaccination mandatory for public and private workers. Exceptions for medical reasons are allowed. About 7% of Italians over 50 are unvaccinated, or about 2.3 million people.

In part, Italy was able to make this politically and legally difficult decision because the country is being run by a technocratic cross-party cabinet and led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who is not affiliated with a party.

“We want to put a brake on the rise of contagion and push Italians who haven't gotten vaccinated to do so,” Draghi said.

Debate over vaccine mandates is lively throughout Europe. Greece made inoculation mandatory for over 60s in November and Austria said it will start issuing fines on the unvaccinated in February.

France, meanwhile, moved a step closer to making life even more difficult for anyone refusing to get a vaccine. After three days of rancorous debate, the National Assembly approved legislation to make anyone over the age of 12 to prove their vaccination status to access restaurants and bars, cultural venues, or interregional public transport. A negative Covid-19 test will no longer be enough.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron took aim at the unvaccinated in a profanity-laced rant during a live-chat interview with Le Parisien, a French newspaper.

“Well, now, the unvaccinated, I really want to cover them in shit,” Macron said, using the slang term ‘emmerder.’ “An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen.”

He said he wants to “piss off” the unvaccinated and make their lives so complicated that they get a shot.

His unusual use of coarse language was seen as a political ploy and sparked strong reactions. He faces reelection in April and his main challengers, who are on the right, have spoken against vaccine mandates and vaccine passes. Macron has not announced whether he will run, saying he needs to focus on the pandemic, but he is expected to seek another term in the Elysee.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Government, Health, International

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