Brussels, Dec 2 As Omicron makes fast inroads into several countries in Europe, it is appropriate that countries in the region consider mandatory vaccination to combat Covid and the Omicron variant, head of its Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.
Given that vaccines are crucial in the fight against the “highly contagious” new variant, von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” for the EU members to discuss mandatory Covid vaccinations given that a third of the bloc’s population was unvaccinated, BBC reported.
Almost 20 countries have, so far, reported cases of Omicron, and the EU has tightened travel restrictions since it was first reported earlier this month. European countries have also been facing a wider spike in cases.
“How can we encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union? This needs discussion. This needs a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think has to be led,” she told a news conference in Brussels.
Only individual EU states can enforce vaccine mandates and some are already taking steps in that direction. Austria has announced compulsory Covid vaccinations from February next year, while Greece has imposed a fine for all people unvaccinated over 60s, with 100 euros a month, the report said.
Germany’s incoming Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has said he supports compulsory jabs. In an interview with Bild television, Scholz said he wanted compulsory vaccinations from March and also said a faster rollout of booster jabs was needed.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, said early signs were that most cases of the Omicron variant were “mild”, but it believes existing vaccines “will still prevent severe disease” among people who contract the new variant.
But the global health body warned against “punitive” travel measures imposed on southern African countries.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was concerned about “blunt, blanket measures”, which “will only worsen inequities”.
Travel bans imposed on South Africa have also created problems for shipping virus samples, the report said.