EU splintering as Spain outright rejects Von der Leyen’s Covid plan

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It comes as Germany is paving the way to introduce mandatory jabs as it tightens curbs on what public amenities unvaccinated people are able to use. The Spanish government said that its high vaccination rate meant it did not need to introduce such drastic measures.

Were the EU to throw its weight behind mandatory jabs, it could splinter the bloc.

Earlier this week, Ursula von der Leyen called for a debate on whether vaccinations should become mandatory.

The European Commission president told reporters in Brussels she believed it appropriate to have a “discussion” on the issue, given how many people in Europe had yet to take the vaccine.

However, she stressed that such rules were strictly a decision for member states.

She said on Wednesday: “It is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion, how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the EU.

“This needs discussion — this needs a common approach.”

Many people in Europe remain unvaccinated, sparking fears EU member states may be hard hit by further waves of infection.

In Germany, there is currently a high hospitalisation rate as it experiencing its fourth wave.

From last week, there have also been a growing number of cases of the new Omicron variant in EU nations.

However, Spain has said pre-emptively announced that it would not make coronavirus vaccines compulsory.

According to Spanish media outlet 20 Minutos, Carolina Darias, the minister of health, ruled out the measure, pointing to the “very high level of public awareness” about the vaccine in the country.

That awareness means that nearly 80 percent of Spaniards over the age of 12 are now completely vaccinated.

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She told a press conference: “I understand that countries with low vaccination coverage can raise the issue and that Ms Von der Leyen is considering opening the debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different.”

The “majority feeling” of ministers, she said, is “to continue with the measures we have”, albeit avoiding large crowds around Christmas time.

The Spanish government still hopes that the remaining unvaccinated in the country will come forward voluntarily.

Ms Darias commented: “In Spain, what we have to do is to continue vaccinating in the way we do.

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are even an obligation because we also protect others.”

Elsewhere in Europe, several countries have resorted to fining the unvaccinated.

Greeks over the age of 60 who refuse to get the jab are fined €100 (£85), and Austrians of any age will be fined €7,200 (£6,137).

Even though Covid infections and hospitalisations in Spain are on the rise, the government there is not concerned due to the vaccination coverage within the population.

3.3 percent of hospital beds are being taken up with Covid patients, and 8.4 percent of intensive care spaces, but the government said that these figures are “almost three times lower” than in previous waves.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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