Greece is now imposing fines on people aged 60 and over who are not vaccinated – even as COVID-19 cases have fallen.
Since last week, people aged 60 and over who refuse to be vaccinated will be fined 50 euros, or about $56.60. This fee will then increase to 100 euros in February and every month thereafter.
Health officials say the threat of a fine helped boost turnout to more than 90% in this age group, Reuters reported.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office and the money would be used to fund public hospitals.
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“The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service,” Plevris told Greek news outlet Open TV last Sunday.
The new mandate has divided opinion, with some supporting the decision amid an increase in the omicron variant and others expressing frustration. A Greek resident who spoke to Euronews said he was being unfairly punished for not being able to make an appointment for vaccination before the mandate came into effect.
“Why didn’t they give me an appointment earlier? It’s not my fault, but now they say I should pay a fine. Why?” the resident told the outlet.
Panagiotis Chatzigiannis, 73, told Reuters the mandate was good because it will prevent people from dying, but it will be “a bit burdensome for pensioners”.
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Pensioners, who have been hit hard over the past decade by the country’s debt crisis, make up about a fifth of Greece’s population of 11 million.
On Sunday, Greece reported more than 12,100 new cases and a seven-day average of nearly 19,000 – down from its peak in early January.
About two-thirds of the population are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70%. Deaths and daily hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious variant of omicron, although pressure on intensive care capacity has eased slightly.
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Many European countries have adopted stricter policies to deal with hospitals filling up with patients infected with the virus.
On Monday, a new law came into effect in France requiring a “vaccine pass” for residents to enter restaurants, bars, tourist sites and gyms unless they have recently recovered of the virus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.