Following European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s remarks last week that EU member states should consider whether obligatory vaccinations are needed to combat the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Central Europe has responded in various ways.
Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger rocked his already shaky coalition this week when he emphasized on multiple occasions that forced vaccination for the elderly, those aged 60 and up, was the only way to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic. The TASR newswire paraphrased Heger as adding, “The road all Europe is taking is certainly compulsory vaccination.”
However, the four-party ruling coalition lacks the premier’s conviction, according to the Slovak Spectator. According to member remarks, Some Rodina, the party led by parliamentary speaker Boris Kollar, is “categorically opposed” to forced vaccination. “I would never vote for mandatory vaccination,” said Kollar.
SAS, the coalition’s liberal-leaning partner, has yet to take a cohesive stance on the issue. At the same time, some of its members push for an even broader immunization scheme that would cover vital personnel.
Heger urged his coalition colleagues to “not succumb to anger” and “build a culture of respect” among themselves while coalition-wide talks continued. He stated on social media, “I am certain that the way to change is not pounding our fists on the table… but showing each other respect and decisiveness.”
According to some inside Heger’s cabinet, if he can’t get enough support for his forced vaccine plan, the prime minister would contemplate retiring, according to Dennik N.
President Zuzana Caputova, recently named to Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most powerful women, has criticized Heger’s vaccination push. “We can no longer afford to watch unending political confrontations with no winners, only losers,” Caputova said during a meeting with Heger.
She asked the prime minister to accept responsibility and devote himself to resolving the issues that have contributed to the country’s poor performance in combating the pandemic and the confusion around the already implemented measures.
The immunization rate in Slovakia is one of the lowest in the EU. In addition, the country lags behind the European norm in terms of booster injections delivered, with less than 10% of the population receiving the additional vaccination. The public health system is on the verge of collapsing as hospitalizations continue to rise. At the same time, Heger’s political foes are beginning to take notice.
Despite being one of the most vaccinated countries in the region, with over 60% of the population having received at least two vaccinations, Czechia still lags behind its Western European counterparts. This is thought to have contributed to the recent spike in infection rates, which have been among the highest in the world. In the 11-million-strong country, nearly 16,000 new illnesses were recorded on December 8.
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 34,000 people, and Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ outgoing populist administration has been chastised for prioritizing politics over health during the pandemic’s handling. Its efforts to persuade the public to be vaccinated and combat the widespread misinformation surrounding the subject have likewise proven ineffective.
But, after losing the legislative election in October, Babis appears to have summoned the courage to confront the anti-vaxxers. People above the age of 60, according to present plans,
But just because Babis’ populism was the glue that kept the five-party “Democratic Bloc” together doesn’t mean it can’t indulge in some populism of its own. According to Marian Jurecka, leader of the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-CSL), the obligation for forced vaccination will be abolished as soon as the next government takes office.
“We do not agree with the future health minister cancelling this order,” Jurecka stated, implying that vital health and law enforcement professionals could resign rather than be forced to take the vaccine. However, experience from other countries demonstrates that fears of mass resignations in the face of mandated vaccination are unfounded.
The incoming labour and social affairs minister also argued that Babis’ administration could do more to persuade people to be vaccinated. However, he provided few details about how the new administration will do so.
Outgoing Labour Minister Jana Malacova called the move to end mandatory vaccination “boundless populism.”]
President Milos Zeman put his plan to test Prime Minister-in-Waiting Petr Fiala into action this week. However, it’s unclear when the new administration will get the chance to start implementing such plans.
Last month, the Machiavellian head of state, whose job is to designate the new government formally, said he would oppose one of Fiala’s 17 cabinet ministers. That plan came to fruition on Tuesday, when he met with Jan Lipovsky, the Pirate Party’s choice for foreign minister.
There have been no confirmations of reports that the president tried to persuade Lipovsky to resign down or that the two fought about Czechia’s relations with Russia, China, and Israel. On the other hand, Fiala paid Zeman an unplanned visit mere hours after the meeting.
While the president expresses his displeasure with Lipavsky’s actions,
It’s no secret that the incoming administration’s inbox is bursting at the seams. The epidemic, the budget for 2022, and Czechia’s EU presidency, which begins in July, are all pressing challenges. Should presidential pressure force Fiala to allow Zeman to overstep the bounds of his office to dictate the composition of his administration, what other schemes might provide leverage in the future?
On the other hand, the new premier appears ready to call Zeman’s bluff and put an end to the president’s long-standing use of constitutional loopholes to spread his mischief. Fiala said on Wednesday that if Zeman refuses to nominate Lipovsky, he is prepared to bring a lawsuit against him in the Constitutional Court, which would add weeks to the time it takes to take office.
“I continue to believe that the entire government will be appointed,” Fiala remarked. “The purpose of this is to establish once and for all what the president’s and prime minister’s powers are.”
After taking no action for the majority of the autumn, the Polish government finally announced some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions this week, after it became clear that the Omicron variant is spreading quickly around the world, and the Polish health system is already showing signs of being stretched thin even before the new variant arrives.
In the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday, 562 people died in Poland due to COVID-19, and over 27,000 new infections were recorded, statistics that have remained relatively constant over the last few days.
In light of this, the government is finally taking steps to stem the spread by mandating vaccination for medical personnel, teachers, police, and the armed forces, allowing employers to demand COVID-19 tests for employees, and limiting access to public venues such as clubs and restaurants.
Approximately 55% of the Polish population has got the COVID-19 vaccination, although progress is gradual. Instead, the government has focused on ensuring that those who have already been vaccinated receive the booster shot, with almost 4 million individuals receiving the third dosage to date.
The Polish government has resisted attempts to use COVID vaccination certificates to restrict access to facilities, claiming that doing so would cause social unrest (proponents of the argument argue that anti-vaxxers are more strongly represented among PiS supporters, so the party doesn’t want to risk losing support). With the new limits, the government now states that people who have been vaccinated and can provide proof of vaccination will be exempt from the quotas in place for public events, pubs, and restaurants.
The Polish Academy of Sciences, the country’s highest scientific body, recently issued a public statement criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic: “From an epidemiological point of view, the government’s lack of action must be deemed deplorable,” it said. “This is especially true given Poles’ serious attitude at the onset of the pandemic, and decision-makers were given trust and time to respond.”