Austria to make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory

In this file photo taken on Sept 14, 2021, a
student is vaccinated against the COVID-19 at a vocational school in Vienna. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

BERLIN / LONDON / OTTAWA – Austria will become the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a full coronavirus lockdown this autumn to tackle a new wave of infections, and will require its whole population to be vaccinated as of February, its government said on Friday.

Roughly two-thirds of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe

Roughly two-thirds of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.

Austria introduced a lockdown for all those who were unvaccinated on Monday but since then infections have continued to set new records.

The two worst-hit provinces, Salzburg and Upper Austria, said on Thursday they would introduce their own lockdowns, raising pressure on the government to do the same nationally.

In this file photo taken on May 15, 2021, people wait for their COVID-19 vaccine inside the International Conference Center during Peel Region's "Doses After Dark" overnight COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (COLE BURSTON / AFP)

Canada

Canada will announce as expected on Friday it is authorizing the use of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, a government source said on Thursday.

The decision will make it the first shot for young children in Canada. Officials had made clear for weeks that the decision would be favorable, noting that incidences of COVID-19 are now highest in those under 12.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month that Ottawa had signed a deal with Pfizer to quickly receive 2.9 million doses of the vaccine once it was approved.

Canada reported 1,827 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,758,706 cases, including 1,705,513 recoveries and 29,448 deaths, according to CTV.

Meanwhile, Ontario, the most populous province in Canada, reported the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases since Sept 24 with 711 new cases of COVID-19 and five deaths on Thursday.

Today's report brings the total number of lab-confirmed cases in Ontario to 609,429, including 9,955 deaths.

The rolling seven-day average in Ontario now stands at 597, which is up from 532 this time last week. There are at least 278 COVID-19 patients, including 129 in the intensive care units.

Of the 711 new cases on Thursday, 322 are in people who are unvaccinated and 314 are in people fully immunized. There are 47 people with an unknown vaccine status and 28 who are partially vaccinated.

CureVac

German biotechnology company CureVac NV said on Thursday clinical trials for its second-generation COVID-19 vaccine are expected to start within the next few months.

Earlier on Thursday, the company published data that showed its next-generation shot, CV2CoV, produced neutralizing antibodies in monkeys that were comparable to those produced by Pfizer Inc's approved vaccine. The efficacy was also greater than the company's first-generation vaccine, it added.

In October, CureVac gave up on its first-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate, CVnCoV, to focus on collaborating with GSK to develop improved mRNA vaccine technology.

The company also withdrew its application for approval from the European Medicines Agency for CVnCoV after late-stage trials results in June showed only 47 percent efficacy.

Following the discontinuation, the agreement CureVac signed to sell shots to the European Union also ended, and the company said it expects it would not have to repay the 450 million euros received from the bloc which had been utilized towards the vaccine's development.

The company had 1.06 billion euros in cash as of Sept 30, and said it was continuing to assess supplier commitments related to the withdrawal of the first-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

France's President Emmanuel Macron puts his mask on after delivering a speech during the closing event of the 103rd session of the Congress of Mayors organised by "France's Mayors' Association" in Paris on Nov 18, 2021. (THIBAULT CAMUS / POOL / AFP)

France

President Emmanuel Macron said France didn’t need to single out unvaccinated people for restrictions, as in several European countries including Austria and Germany, because of the national health pass that documents a person’s vaccination status.

“Countries locking down non vaccinated people are those that didn’t put in place the health pass,” Macron told La Voix du Nord late Thursday, referring to the obligation of being showing proof of immunization or vaccination to access public venues such as bars or restaurants.

France’s outbreak has worsened recently but not as badly as many other countries in Europe. Almost 80 percent of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

ALSO READ: AstraZeneca antibody drug offers 83% protection over 6 months

In this file photo taken on April 16, 2021,
a doctor (2nd right) takes a swab sample from a man to test for COVID-19 at a testing station inside a pub in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP)

Germany

Germany's Bundestag, the country's lower parliament, approved amendments to the infection protection act on Thursday in order to contain the accelerating spread of COVID-19.

The changes to German infection law presented by the coalition partners Social Democratic Party, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party introduce so-called 3G rules, which stands for vaccinated, recovered or tested, at work as well as in local and long-distance public transport.

Many established health measures, such as the mandatory use of masks and distance regulations, could be continued, according to the German government. Employees were encouraged to work from home again if possible. The regulations are scheduled to be in effect nationwide until March next year.

Tougher measures such as 2G rules which only allow vaccinated and/or recovered people to attend cultural events as well as bars and restaurants could be continually implemented by federal states depending on the COVID-19 situation.

Despite record infection numbers and hospitals filling up with COVID-19 patients, further curfews, accommodation bans or area-wide closures of stores, schools and restaurants or sports facilities are not possible under the amendment.

The draft law adopted by the Bundestag must now be approved by the Bundesrat, upper parliament, on Friday. If the required majority is not reached in the Bundesrat, the next step could be for the mediation committee with representatives of the Bundestag and Bundesrat to try to find a solution. 

Hungary

Hungary reported the highest level of daily COVID-19 infections since the outbreak of the pandemic, showing the country’s vulnerability even with the majority of the population vaccinated. The daily case count rose to a record 11,289, according to data published on Friday. Hungary has about 60 percent of the population inoculated, compared with a 70 percent average in the European Union.

Pfizer

Pfizer plans to apply for a European authorization of its experimental antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 on Friday, German weekly Wirtschaftswoche said, citing sources close to the European Medicines Agency and the company.

The paper also said that acting German health minister Jens Spahn plans to buy Pfizer's medicine. "The health ministry is in contact with Pfizer regarding a possible procurement of the antiviral drug Paxlovid," Wirtschaftswoche quoted a ministry's spokesperson as saying.

Pfizer has said that the pill cuts by 89 percent the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease.

In this file photo taken on Dec 08, 2020, nurse Paula McMahon (right) prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for another healthcare worker at the Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow  as Britain starts is biggest ever vaccination program. (JEFF J MITCHELL / POOL / AFP)

UK

The British government was unprepared for a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, failed to learn from simulation exercises and was distracted by its departure from the European Union, the government's spending watchdog said on Friday.

More than 143,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Britain, sparking criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his response, which was initially based on plans for dealing with a flu pandemic rather than a novel coronavirus.

The National Audit Office also highlighted the role of Brexit in soaking up resources, with Britain leaving the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020, the same day as the country's first confirmed COVID-19 case.

It said the Civil Contingencies Secretariat allocated 56 of its 94 full-time equivalent staff to prepare for potential disruptions from a no-deal Brexit, limiting its ability to focus on other risks and contingency planning at the same time.

"This pandemic has exposed the UK's vulnerability to whole-system emergencies, where the emergency is so broad that it engages all levels of government and society," Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said in a statement.

The government paid insufficient heed to warnings from pandemic simulations such as those carried out in 2007 and 2016 over planning and capabilities, the NAO added.

The government said its response was guided by scientific and medical experts, and it had improved its pandemic response plans in light of the 2016 simulation.

"We have always said there are lessons to be learned from the pandemic and have committed to a full public inquiry in spring," a government spokesperson said.

"We prepare for a range of scenarios and while there were extensive arrangements in place, this is an unprecedented pandemic that has challenged health systems around the world."

In this file photo taken on Aug 19, 2021, a nurse fills a syringe with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic hosted by The Tournament of Roses in partnership with the Pasadena Public Health Department at Tournament House in Pasadena, California.  (ROBYN BECK / AFP)

US

The American Medical Association and more than 60 other US health organizations endorsed the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. They said the requirement is “reasonable and essential to protect workers.”

“When employers require workers to get vaccinated, vaccination rates increase to over 90 percent,” a public letter read. “Courts have repeatedly supported the legality of employer mandates.”

More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the requirement, which also allows for regular testing. The deadline is Jan 4.