Europe's loud, rule-breaking unvaccinated minority are falling out of society.
As the pandemic has moved into its third year, and the Omicron variant has sparked a new wave of cases, governments around the world are still grappling with the challenge of bringing the virus under control.
Vaccines, one of the most powerful weapons in their armoires, have been available for a year but a small, vocal minority of people - Mass-Voll, one of Europe's largest youth-orientated anti-vaccine passport groups are not willing to get jabbed, reported CNN.
Due to refusal to get vaccinated, Mass-Voll supporters are locked out of much of public life. Without a vaccine certificate, they can no longer complete their degree or work in a grocery store. They are barred from eating in restaurants, attending concerts or going to the gym.
Faced with lingering pockets of vaccine hesitancy, or outright refusal, many nations are imposing ever-stricter rules and restrictions on unvaccinated people, effectively making their lives more difficult in an effort to convince them to get their shots, reported CNN.
In doing so, they are testing the boundary between public health and civil liberties -- and heightening tensions between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
"We will not allow a tiny minority of unhinged extremists to impose its will on our entire society," Germany's new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said last month, targeting the violent fringes of the anti-vaccine movement.
Vaccine passports have been in place for months to gain entry to hospitality venues in much of the European Union. But as Delta and Omicron infections have surged and inoculation rollouts have stalled, some governments have gone further, reported CNN.
Austria imposed Europe's first lockdown for the unvaccinated and is scheduled to introduce mandatory shots from February 1.
Germany has banned unvaccinated people from most areas of public life, and the country's Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach, warned in December that: "without mandatory vaccination, I do not see us managing further waves in the long term."
And France's President Emmanuel Macron last week told Le Parisien newspaper that he "really wants to piss off" the unvaccinated. "We're going to keep doing it until the end," he said. "This is the strategy."
The scientific basis for anti-COVID measures is solid - Vaccines have been proven to reduce transmission, substantially slash the likelihood of serious illness and decrease the burden on healthcare systems.
Many of the restrictions also have broad public support -- Switzerland's were recently backed comfortably in a referendum -- as majority-vaccinated populations tire of obstacles blocking their path out of the pandemic, reported CNN.
Moreover, real-world data shows that impact; European countries with highly vaccinated populations, such as Spain and Portugal, have been less badly affected by more recent waves of infection and have been able to open up their economies, while those with stuttering rollouts have faced severe restrictions and spikes in hospitalizations.
But the latest rounds of curbs have fuelled anger among those unwilling to take a shot, many of whom are now slipping out of society -- or resorting to subterfuge and rule-breaking to create their own communities, citing their right to "freedom," reported CNN.
"(Some) people have a very twisted idea of what freedom is," said Suzanne Suggs, professor of communication at the University of Lugano's public health institute. "They're arguing it's their individual right to harm others."
Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said "the vast majority of people everywhere" were supportive of measures to combat COVID.
Unlike in poorer parts of the world where some are desperate to receive doses, access to COVID-19 vaccines is plentiful in the EU.
The effects of the shots have been clear for some time; across Europe, regions with lower rates of vaccine uptake have suffered more severe waves of hospitalizations and deaths, reported CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in November that the lives of 470,000 people in Europe aged 60 and over have been saved by vaccines since the rollout began.
Those who refuse to get inoculated may accuse vaccine passport-wielding politicians of turning them into second-class citizens, but EU governments are unrepentant.
French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that those who do not protect themselves and those around them from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated are "irresponsible" and thus deserving of such a fate (locked out of public life).
"When my freedom threatens that of others, I become irresponsible," he said. "An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen." (ANI)