The European Union must consider mandatory vaccination to tackle the spread of the “highly contagious” omicron variant, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, has said.In a rallying cry, she urged the EU’s 27 member states to step up their vaccination campaigns, roll out booster doses and consider new travel restrictions in response to the emergence of the mutant strain in Europe.Mrs von der Leyen, a former medical doctor, said mandatory immunisations must be considered as a policy to counter the worryingly low take-up across the bloc, which has some 150 million people not vaccinated against the disease.Asked whether she supported mandatory jabs, she told reporters on Wednesday: “We have the vaccines, the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere. And this costs … This is an enormous health cost coming along.“If you look at the numbers, we have now 77 per cent of the adults in the European Union vaccinated or if you take the whole population, it’s 66 per cent. And this means one-third of the European population is not vaccinated. These are 150 million people.“This is a lot, and not each and every one can be vaccinated – children, for example, or people with special medical conditions – but the vast majority could and therefore, I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now.“How we can 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 met.”But Mrs von der Leyen conceded the question was out of her hands because such a decision is a “pure member state competence”, adding: “It is not for me to make such a recommendation.”Greece and Austria have moved to introduce mandatory vaccinations, with fines for anyone who doesn’t comply with their diktats.
In a series of recommendations, the Commission also urged member states to revisit their border policies to stop cases of the omicron strain leaking into the bloc.There are already as many as 44 confirmed cases in EU countries, according to the bloc’s public health body, with more potential infections being investigated.Mrs von der Leyen said EU capitals could demand costly pre-departure PCR tests for travellers visiting their countries, even within the bloc’s borders.”Omicron is already in Europe, it is therefore important we have a person-based approach,” she said.The Commission called for a “joint strategy to limit the omicron variant into the EU”, including “daily reviews of essential travel restrictions”.”The requirement of a PCR test prior to arrival can be a suitable means for member states to consider, in particular for travel to the EU,” the Brussels-based executive said in a communication note.Britain, where there are 22 confirmed cases of the new variant, could fall foul of new EU travel restrictions, if the bloc triggers its “emergency brake” procedure to enforce temporary controls.
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