Vaccination rates in France and Italy have soared after leaders announced a raft of restrictions that will drastically curtail the freedom of unvaccinated people, moves the governments see as essential in containing outbreaks of Covid-19 and preventing further lockdowns but which critics argue amount to an authoritarian abuse of power.
Since French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to require “health passes” to access indoor spaces like cafes, restaurants, cinemas and trains without a negative Covid-19 test (which will not be free come fall) on July 12, 4 million people got their first shot and nearly six million made an appointment to get one.
When first announced, Macron’s crackdown prompted nearly 1 million residents in one of the world’s most vaccine-resistant countries to book an appointment in a single day, reviving France’s stalled inoculation drive.
In the 24 hours following Draghi’s announcement, more than 150,000 Italians booked slots to get vaccinated, up between 15% and 200% depending on the region, said Francesco Figliuolo, the army general leading Italy’s Covid response.
The demand for vaccinations was so high—the Friuli Venezia Giulia region saw a 6,000% bump, Figliuolo said—that some regions like Lombardy moved quickly to make more slots available.
French officials said 161,000 people took to the streets to oppose the law on Saturday (France’s parliament passed it on Monday). This is up from 114,000 the week before. Many protestors reportedly object to being compelled to get the vaccine or face continued coronavirus restrictions otherwise. There were also protests around Italy in the wake of Draghi’s announcement, echoing similar demonstrations against restrictions or lockdowns around the world.
Vaccine hesitancy remains a significant barrier to boosting vaccine uptake around the world. Despite efforts and initiatives to combat disinformation, address concerns and make appointments more accessible, vaccination drives in the U.S. and Europe have struggled to keep up momentum and achieve the coverage experts say will be needed to protect against the delta variant of Covid-19. With dire health warnings, the threat of new lockdowns and more traditional incentives having failed to stir up sufficient interest, France and Italy have tried a more coercive strategy. Unlike traditional incentives, vaccine passports work by denying the unvaccinated entry into certain places, essentially penalizing people who don’t get the vaccine. While many people feel it is only fair that the unvaccinated bear the consequences of decisions that affect the entire social body, others say such penalties amount to unfair and unacceptable discrimination for people exercising personal their freedom to choose (often by invoking references to dictatorial and oppressive regimes like Nazi Germany).
On a recent visit to French Polynesia, Macron hit back at protestors’ liberal use of the word freedom. “Everyone is free to express themselves calmly with respect for the other,” he said. “But freedom where I owe nothing to someone else does not exist,” adding that those who elect not to make a decision to protect themselves that endangers others are irresponsible and egoistic. In announcing Italy’s pass, Draghi expressed a similar sentiment: “An invitation not to get vaccinated is an invitation to die, or to let others die.”
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