ATHENS, Greece (AP) – European countries are working to scale up vaccination campaigns, using a carrot and stick approach to persuade those reluctant to get vaccinated, as the more transmissible delta variant leads to increased infections.
Greece was the latest to enact new restrictions on Friday, requiring proof of vaccination or a recent recovery from COVID-19 for access to restaurants, cafes, bars and indoor cinemas. Children can enter with negative tests.
The measure, which is part of a package of government incentives, had little immediate effect as virtually all public life moves outdoors during Greece’s hot, dry summers. The terraces of cafes and restaurants and the open-air cinemas remain accessible to all.
“Right now it’s midsummer, people prefer to be outside, under the trees, and people don’t want to sit inside,” said Sprios Bairaktaris, tavern owner. Popular Greek in the tourist district of Athens which has both interiors and outdoor spaces.
Nonetheless, he still enforced the government measure, only allowing customers with COVID-19 certificates to sit indoors.
“We adhere to all safety measures. Whatever doctors or scientists advise, ”he said.
Outdoor clubs and concert halls in Greece will also be accessible only to fully vaccinated or recently recovered people, with a capacity capped at 85% and no permanent customers.
But just as the measure went into effect in Greece, the Russian capital repealed a similar measure introduced last month.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that the obligation for restaurants to admit only customers with proof of vaccination or a negative test ends on Monday as the rate of contagion slowed. The restrictions had severely hurt restaurant owners, already reeling from the impact of the pandemic, forcing many to close.
Some European countries have also introduced compulsory vaccinations for certain professions. Italy made vaccinations mandatory in April for healthcare workers and pharmacists. France and Greece this week announced mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers and nursing home staff, with France extending the requirement to those caring for an elderly or sick person at home.
France has also announced mandatory COVID-19 passes to access restaurants, bars, shopping malls and many tourist sites, as well as trains and planes, starting July 21. Passes are available to anyone who has been fully immunized, recently recovered, or has a recent negative test.
The regulations sparked protests, with thousands demonstrating in Greek and French cities on Wednesday. Other events are planned for Saturday in France.
But the incentives seem to work for some people.
“Tuesday, we realized that everything would be closed for us if we did not get vaccinated so we started looking for an appointment,” says the 15-year-old Parisian Chloé Dril, waiting with her mother to to get vaccinated. “We noticed that for train tickets it was much more complicated if we are not vaccinated, if we want to go abroad it will be more complicated, so that really pushed us to be vaccinated.”
Some business owners are uncomfortable having to enforce the rules.
“It’s a shame we’ve gotten to the point where we need to create these incentives for people to get vaccinated,” said Clément Léon, owner of bar Le Picoti in Paris. “On the other hand, forcing bar owners to play the role of border police officers asking for their customers’ papers is also an issue. From a legal point of view, this bothers me.
Greece has seen an increase in new infections driven by the delta variant, although the rate of new hospitalizations has been slower. The vaccines have been available to anyone 18 or older for several weeks and became available this week for people over 15. Incentives to get vaccinated include a credit of 150 euros ($ 180) to spend on entertainment and travel for anyone under 26 who gets vaccinated.
Cyprus has also seen an alarming rise in infections, prompting the government to announce new regulations on Friday. They include proof of COVID-19 status for access to public transportation, banks, state services, businesses, and to visit nursing homes. Dance clubs will only be open to those vaccinated and recently restored.
Britain is also making vaccinations mandatory this fall for nursing home workers and the government is considering extending them to National Health Service employees. Parliament approved the measure despite strong opposition from some lawmakers and warnings from nursing homes that it could exacerbate staff shortages.
“You would expect this in a communist country,” commented Conservative lawmaker William Wragg.
England plans to lift restrictions on the remaining coronaviruses on Monday. The Conservative government says it expects bars and nightclubs to check customers’ COVID-19 status, but that will not be a legal requirement. Many companies say they simply won’t.
Music Venue Trust chief executive Mark Davyd said vaccine passports were “a complete non-starter at the moment.”
“Very, very few places are going to do that,” he said, noting that fake vaccine passports were already available online for impatient revelers.
AP reporters across Europe contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s stories on the global coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.