German lawmakers voted on Friday to make coronavirus vaccines obligatory for health care workers — a significant move in a nation where protests against pandemic restrictions have been widespread.
The mandate, which will go into effect in mid-March, comes after the country last week announced a lockdown on those who are unvaccinated, and as nations across Europe have reintroduced measures meant to control the spread of the coronavirus. The efforts have taken on added urgency as scientists race to understand the risks posed by the recently detected Omicron variant.
Although initial reports suggest Omicron spreads faster than previous variants, there are some early signs that it may cause mostly mild illness, but that observation was based mainly on cases in South Africa among younger people, who are generally less likely to become severely ill from Covid. There are also early indications that at least some vaccines will continue to work, though possibly at diminished levels.
In November, the British government announced that all frontline health workers in England must be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the spring to keep their jobs.
The Biden administration issued three mandates in September — one for federal contractors, another for health care workers and a third for companies with more than 100 employees. But the broad vaccine mandates affecting the private sector have been delayed by courts.
Austria has gone the furthest of any Western democracy, requiring Covid vaccinations for all adults.
More than 69 percent of the German population is fully vaccinated, but the rate of daily vaccinations has recently increased to levels not seen since the early summer.
Elsewhere in Europe on Friday:
In a sign of the rising concern in Italy, another region — the third in recent weeks — will toughen coronavirus restrictions next week. Face masks will be required outdoors and restaurants will have to limit the number of guests eating at the same table in the southern region of Calabria, as well as in Friuli Venezia Giulia in the far northeast and the northern province of Bolzano — bordering Austria and Switzerland, where 70 percent of the population is German-speaking. Bolzano has the country’s lowest vaccination rate.
The Associated Press reported that the Dutch government cleared the way on Friday for children ages 5 to 11 years old to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, extending its inoculation program to an age group that had the highest rate of infections in a recent surge. The program is set to begin in mid-January, the health ministry said.
The police in northern Greece made 11 arrests on Friday after a high school principal was handcuffed by people who are accused of being members of a vigilante group that opposes pandemic restrictions, according to The Associated Press. The episode occurred near the city of Katerini, 270 miles north of Athens. The suspects are accused of grabbing and handcuffing the principal, 61, ahead of a daily health check of students waiting to enter the school, forcing him into a vehicle and driving him to a nearby precinct where they asked the police to charge him. Instead, the police promptly detained them instead.
Raphael Minder and Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.