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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

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Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Vienna this weekend against Austria’s lockdown and coronavirus restrictions. Most of the protesters were peaceful, but some members of far-right groups and others burned masks, threw beer cans at police officers, and set off fireworks.

Mass demonstrations were also held in Switzerland, Brussels and the Dutch city of Rotterdam, sometimes punctuated by outbreaks of violence.

There will likely be additional restrictions on the route through Europe: Slovak and German politicians are also discussing a vaccine mandate similar to Austria as the only way to sustainably beat the epidemic.

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“Maybe by the end of this winter, as it is sometimes said derisively,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said, “everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured or dead.”

The Austrian states of Salzburg and Upper Austria are among the worst affected, according to my Berlin-based colleague Christopher Schweitz.

“They had such poor case numbers that there was apparently a hospital where the dead lay in the hallway, on stretchers,” he said. “Italy hasn’t quite been in the spring of 2020, but it’s close to that.”

Resistance to public health measures is growing. However, European leaders may feel they have no choice but to implement it, despite the proliferation of vaccines that were seen a year ago as a fail-proof way out of the pandemic.

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“It’s like they’re in a car that’s going at 200 kilometers per hour, and it hits the wall,” Chris said. “At some point, someone has to break.”

Some European countries that have imposed strict mandates have had success.

France has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world after imposing strict mandates. In Italy, protests against the Mandate subsided. Anti-vaccine reactions have faded away in Spain, too.

Vaccination rates drop as you travel east in Europe. Germany, Austria and the German-speaking region of Switzerland have the continent’s largest proportion of the unvaccinated population: about one in four people over the age of 12 are unvaccinated, compared to about one in 10 in France and Italy and almost zero in Portugal.

To make matters worse, Germany is facing a dwindling supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine as it races to deliver booster doses.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia average about 10,000 cases per day, and infections are also high in Greece, Hungary and Croatia. The president of Slovakia, Austria’s eastern neighbor, also raised the prospects for a global mandate on Saturday.

Austria’s nationwide mandate for vaccination – a first in Europe – is set to come into full force in February. The decision came after months of attempts to stop the spread of the virus through testing and partial restrictions, including closing only for unvaccinated people.

“Politically speaking, it’s very unpopular to have a vaccine mandate or a full shutdown,” Chris said. It would give the far right a lot of political power. But they’ve reached a point where they can’t do that. It has gotten so bad. “

Selling coronavirus vaccines is tough in South Sudan, the world’s newest country. Many people realize that the pandemic is a threat – not a very urgent one.

“We’ve heard that people are dying, but we haven’t seen anyone sick here,” said a village leader in a rural area that has suffered years of flooding. “When you’re starving, don’t think about other things – you need to feed your stomach first.”

The vast majority of the 11 million people living in one of the poorest countries on earth have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Times photojournalist, Lynsey Addario, spent nearly a week traveling with a UN team that was in South Sudan to assess flood damage and prepare for a vaccine rollout in the area.

“What children are dying from is malaria, diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections,” said Yves Willemot, UNICEF Communications Officer. “We have one child in 10 who dies before the age of five, and they don’t die from Covid-19.”

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However, in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, there has been a steady stream of people at vaccination sites across the city. No young man took advantage of rumors around his neighborhood that the vaccine spreads to the liver and causes death within a year. He wanted to get an injection so that he could continue studying in Uganda abroad.

“If you don’t have a vaccine, they won’t let us in,” he said.

I live in Austria. I did not want to be vaccinated. But restrictions on non-vaccinators were excessive. Not for me, I’m an author and work from home. But I had to get vaccinated to take my young son anywhere (hairdresser, McDonald’s, etc). So I did it for him. – Avlon McCready, Austria

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