The unvaccinated are contributing to a fourth wave. But governments must do all they can to avoid two-tier societies becoming the norm
As a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections threatens to overwhelm intensive care units in hospitals from Brussels to Berlin, European governments have begun to sound exasperated as well as anxious. On Monday, the German health minister, Jens Spahn, starkly laid out the stakes of the coming winter, in terms designed to function as a wake-up call. By the spring, Mr Spahn warned, the vast majority of Germans would be “vaccinated, cured or dead”. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, dismissed violent protesters against restrictions on the unjabbed as “idiots”, while his Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, said that similar scenes in Brussels were “absolutely unacceptable”.
The comments of Mr Rutte and Mr De Croo were explicitly directed at the violent fringe that hijacked demonstrations in the Belgian capital and Rotterdam. But there is a more general sense of frustration among political leaders in western Europe: as an expected autumn surge duly comes to pass, a significant minority of citizens are deepening the crisis by refusing to be vaccinated. Dealing with this section of the population, which is far more likely to need hospital treatment after infection, has become a major policy dilemma for governments seeking to juggle civil liberties with the need to protect the interests of society as a whole.