Europe tried to boost Covid-19 vaccine takeup with carrots. Now some leaders are breaking out the sticks

Europe tried to boost Covid-19 vaccine takeup with carrots. Now some leaders are breaking out the sticks

As the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations in Europe shows signs of a slowdown, leaders are racing to find answers to a key dilemma of the rollout’s next phase: how to convince reluctant citizens to roll up their sleeves.

From cash payments to phone data, free football stadium tours to free grilled meat, officials have offered up a range of carrots to entice people to get shots. Now, as the Delta variant rips across the continent, threatening to spark another round of lockdowns at the height of summer, some leaders are bringing out the sticks. In the early hours of Monday, France’s parliament pass a law that requires a “health pass” showing proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test in order to enter restaurants, bars and for travel on long-distance trains and planes, starting in August. “We will extend the health pass as much as possible to push as many of you as possible to go get vaccinated,” French President Emmanel Macron explained in mid-July, when he announced the legislation. He also said vaccination would be required for health workers from September 15 and hinted at the possibility of making the shot mandatory for everyone if the epidemic worsened.

Greece, facing a spike in infections that is threatening the revival of its crucial tourism industry, went a step further than France in mid-July, barring the unvaccinated from indoor restaurants, bars, cafes and movie theaters. It also ordered mandatory shots for healthcare workers. Italy, which mandated vaccines for health care and pharmacy workers in April, announced Thursday that it too would impose similar restrictions on indoor venues for residents without proof of immunity. “The message that as a government we want to give is, get vaccinated! Get vaccinated! Get vaccinated!” the country’s health minister said. Barring the unvaccinated from areas of social life is the latest of many restrictions that were once unthinkable in Western democracies but are now becoming commonplace. The moves have sparked protests and renewed the debate about whether getting a shot should be left to individual choice or required by the state for the collective good.

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