Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
© Socrates Baltagiannis/dpa
A doctor prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine against the coronavirus at a vaccination centre on the Greek island of Milos

The Greek government has made it mandatory for the over-60s to be vaccinated, with a monthly €100 fine added to tax bills for those who refuse.

Greece has seen daily cases hit record levels this month due to the highly-contagious Omicron variant, with the country's public health system struggling to cope with the surge in infections.

In a nutshell

From Monday (17 January), people aged 60 and over in Greece who have not yet received the Covid-19 vaccination will face penalties, starting at a €50 fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of €100 after that.

According to the country's Health Minister, Thanos Plevris, the fines will be collected through the tax office with the money to be used to help fund state hospitals.

Plevris said that vaccine mandate is being introduced to try to sway the unvaccinated population and alleviate the burden on the nation's healthcare system.

"The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service," Plevris told private Open TV on Sunday.

vaccine certifications check
© Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto
An employee checks Coronavirus vaccine certifications at the enter of a shop in the centre of Athens, Greece
What has been said?

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended the mandate, saying that while those aged over 60 suffer 12.2 per cent of all Covid-19 cases, the age cohort accounts for half of the hospitalisations and 83.2 percent of deaths. According to government data, seven in ten intubated patients in Greek hospitals are over 60 years old and eight out of ten intubated are unvaccinated.

Mitsotakis told the country's elderly population that the simplest way to avoid the levy is to get vaccinated.

"To the few of our fellow citizens over 60 who are still unvaccinated, I encourage them today: take the step," he said on Saturday.

"It's not a matter of fine, yes the fine will be imposed, but that's the least. Protect your life, the lives of those you love and understand that the vaccine is safe."

Background

According to figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Greece's vaccination rate remains below the EU average as only 66.3 per cent of the total population has been fully vaccinated while 35.3 per cent have also received a booster dose.
protest vaccine
© Konstantinos Zilos/NurPhoto
People take part in a demonstration against the vaccine for the protection by Covid-19 virus, in Athens, on November 3, 2021
There have been 1,660,871 infections and 21,984 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.

The vaccine mandate for over-60s was first announced in November and, according to government data, some 41.5 per cent of the 530,000 people targeted by the measure are now fully vaccinated.

Vaccine mandates around the world

The vaccine mandate introduced in Greece is just the latest in a string of targeted restrictions as governments across the world turn up the heat on vaccine holdouts.

Indonesia was the first country to introduce a Covid vaccine mandate, in February 2021. The measures are extensive, allowing local government or regional health agencies to fine or refuse social assistance and government services to people who do not get vaccinated.

This month, Italy also made vaccination mandatory for people aged 50 and over, with those in work facing possible suspension without pay if they refuse to be vaccinated. Those over-50s who don't work will have to either be vaccinated or face sanctions. Italy had already introduced mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers in April 2021, and on 15 December this was extended to all school staff, police and the military.

Austria is planning to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for all residents 18 and over from February, with means-tested fines of up to €3,600 every three months for those who do not comply. Pregnant women and people who for medical reasons can't be vaccinated will be exempted; so will people who have recovered from a Covid-19 infection in the past six months. Austrian officials also announced a stay at home order for the unvaccinated in November.

The German government is planning to vote on a similar mandate in response to the spread of Omicron, most likely with fines for those who do not comply. The country will soon require vaccination for workers at care homes and hospitals. In December, German officials banned those who have not been vaccinated or recovered from bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, and non-essential shops, with stricter rules on household mixing for the unvaccinated as well.

Last week, Quebec's government announced plans on imposing a tax on people who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Government officials said they were weighing up the move as hospitals in the Canadian province are struggling with a surge of new cases. Quebec Premier François Legault said the fine was a question of fairness, given the unvaccinated make up 10 per cent of the population but around half of those hospitalised with Covid-19.