Greece has begun imposing recurring fines on those over the age of 60 who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 to try to boost inoculation in the most vulnerable age group even as infection rates from the fast-spreading Omicron variant are slowing.
After hitting an all-time high of 50,126 registered coronavirus infections on Jan. 4, mainly driven by the spread of the Omicron variant over the Christmas holidays, cases have been falling in recent days.
But with the more severe Delta variant still infecting many Greeks and causing serious illness in people over the age of 60, the country has been registering many dozens of daily deaths at its hospitals. About nine in 10 coronavirus-related fatalities are people over 60, the government has said.
“They did the right thing because it’s good for all of us and our health,” said Vassilis Chrisikos, 85. “We got vaccinated, (so) shouldn’t everyone get vaccinated to get rid of this coronavirus?”
Greece is among a growing number of countries that have tightened vaccination requirements on certain professions or age groups as the Delta and Omicron variants have added fuel to the pandemic.
The announcement of a monthly 100 euro ($113.36) fine in November for people over 60 who failed to get vaccinated or book a vaccination appointment by Jan. 16 has helped increase the take-up rate to more than 90% of that age group, health officials have said.
For the remaining 10%, a fine of 50 euros will be collected through tax authorities for January that will rise to 100 euros for each month from February onwards to help fund state hospitals.
The sum is expected to hit Greek pensioners, who make up about a quarter of Greece’s population of nearly 11 million. This group saw its state pensions cut several times during Greece’s 2010-2018 debt crisis.
“On one side it’s good, because it will keep people from dying. On the other, it is a bit hefty, for pensioners,” said Panagiotis Chatzigiannis, 73.
Greece reported 23,340 daily COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with coronavirus-related deaths reaching 106. That brought the total number of reported infections and fatalities in the country to 1,703,396 and 22,197, respectively