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Sunday, December 5, 2021

From Sydney to Vienna, the rise of the unvaccinated underclass

Some Australians are, to put it politely, sceptical. One called Ms Brennan tweeted: “These rules, for people’s own homes, are crazy… Who’s going to police this? I have no idea who is or isn’t vaccinated, neighbours or friends. So how would I know if they have someone over that isn’t? More importantly I don’t want to know.”  

Even in liberal New Zealand, politicians are coming down hard. In areas with high infection rates, the unjabbed face restrictions on the size of gatherings they can attend, as well as bans on visiting restaurants, bars, gyms and hairdressers. When asked by a journalist if this effectively meant creating “two different classes of society”, prime minister Jacinda Ardern responded: “That is what it is.” 

The Māori Party, which represents the country’s indigenous population, likened the policy to a “real-life Squid Game” a reference to the bloodthirsty Netflix hit in which those in debt are killed off en masse. 

The crackdown gathers pace

Pressure on the unvaccinated is likely to grow across the world. As more and more countries have lifted restrictions in a bid to “live with the virus” they have found that infection rates quickly rebound – especially in winter.

It has yet to be established what level of vaccine coverage is needed in a population to keep Covid at bay without it threatening health services – but it is high. In Singapore, where 87 per cent of the population is vaccinated, the health system has come under mounting pressure in recent weeks.

Last week, the government warned its citizens they would have to pay for their own medical care if they get Covid and are unvaccinated despite being eligible. The rules will come in from December in a bid to halt the city state’s worst outbreak. Singapore is reporting several thousand cases a day, although health experts say most are mild. 

The crackdown on the unvaccinated even extends to the land of the free. In the US, vaccine mandates were brought in earlier this year for all federal workers. More recently, President Joe Biden introduced plans for all companies with more than 100 staff to require proof-of-vaccination status from workers, or face weekly testing. Republican politicians have criticised the policy as “unconstitutional” and said they will fight it in the courts but little progress has been made.

In the UK, too, things have quietly been getting harder for the unvaccinated. Both Scotland and Wales have introduced vaccine passports, and in England last week the Government announced it would be a legal requirement for all healthcare workers to be vaccinated by April 1. Those who refuse, and cannot be found non-patient facing roles, will lose their jobs.

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has also come under pressure in recent months to recommend the universal vaccination of children – something it has refused to date. Unlike regulators in other countries, such as the US and China, where children as young as five are being jabbed, the JCVI does not think it ethically justifiable to vaccinate children for the benefit of wider society. 

‘Draconian ways’

The crackdown is not just causing anger among libertarians and others who recoil from authoritarianism. Public health experts specialising in vaccination also fear it could spark a backlash – one that could fuel the anti-vaxx movement for years to come.

“I think it will lead to increasing polarisation,” says professor Beate Kampmann, director of The Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Kampmann adds that those countries keeping the unvaccinated locked down in their homes risk undermining confidence in the state – a key driver of the anti-vaxx movement.

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