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COVID-19 in Europe: Austria vaccine mandate comes into force

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Austria has become the first country in Europe to introduce a national COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults.

From Tuesday, all citizens aged 18 and over will need to be fully vaccinated against the virus or face fines of up to €3,600.

Pregnant women and people who for medical reasons can’t be vaccinated will be exempted, as will people who have recovered from infection in the past six months.

The EU member state also plans to loosen coronavirus restrictions, with restaurants allowed to remain open until midnight on Saturday.

Meanwhile, unvaccinated citizens will no longer be barred from entering shops and restaurants in a phasing out of anti-COVID measures later this month.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer also announced on Saturday that lockdown restrictions for vaccinated people, which have been in place since November, will end on Monday.

The changes come despite record-high new infection numbers in recent days, fuelled by the omicron variant. But Nehammer said the low rate of hospitalisations means additional steps forward are possible.

Germany misses vaccination target

Neighbouring Germany is also currently debating a possible wide-ranging coronavirus vaccine mandate.

On Monday, the government confirmed that it was set to miss a target of giving at least one shot of coronavirus vaccine to 80% of the population by the end of January.

Official statistics show that 75.8% of Germany’s population have received at least one shot, while 74% are fully vaccinated and 52.8% have also received a booster.

The target “has been missed,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit acknowledged at a regular news conference.

While the number of people getting boosters has risen quickly, the proportion of the population getting a first shot has only crept higher in recent weeks.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors decided a week ago to keep various restrictions in place in the face of rising infections, but not to expand them.

Russia registers new record in daily cases

Russia’s daily tally of new coronavirus infections surged to more than 121,000 on Sunday, an all-time high.

This represents an eightfold increase compared with the beginning of January when only around 15,000 new cases per day were registered.

The state coronavirus task force also reported that 668 people died of COVID-19 in the past day, bringing Russia’s total coronavirus-related deaths to 330,728, by far the largest in Europe.

Russia’s state statistics agency puts the country’s pandemic death toll much higher, saying the number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Despite the surging infections, authorities have avoided imposing any major restrictions, saying the country’s health system has been coping with the influx of patients.

This week health officials cut the required isolation period for contact cases from 14 days to 7 days. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated to reporters on Monday that there were no discussions of a nationwide lockdown.

On Monday, Moscow also started offering the domestically developed Sputnik M vaccine to children in the 12-17 age group.

Cyprus Catholic church suspends unvaccinated priests

The head of Cyprus’ Orthodox Christian Church said that he will suspend a dozen priests from his diocese because they refused to heed his call to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Archbishop Chrystostomos II called their insubordination “unheard of” and warned that the suspensions could be extended to six months or lead to the priests being defrocked.

He suggested that some of the unvaccinated priests may be emboldened to defy him because of his frail health. The archbishop has been vocal in his support for vaccinations for all the faithful.

COVID-19 infections in Cyprus have in recent weeks remain high but health authorities say the system is coping.

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