The World Health Organization's Europe regional director has expressed opposition to COVID vaccine mandates, saying that it should be an "absolute last resort" in fighting the coronavirus.
Hans Kluge underscored how "the effectiveness of mandates is very context specific" during a press conference on Tuesday.
"Mandates around vaccination are an absolute last resort and only applicable when all feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted," Kluge argued, as reported by Insider. "What is acceptable in one society and community may not be effective and acceptable in another."
The WHO transcript showed how Kluge argued that vaccine mandates, which "proved effective" in some regions, in other places may actually harm "public confidence and public trust, as well as vaccination uptake, must be considered." The WHO official urged governments "not to mandate vaccination if you haven't reached out first to the communities."
Kluge also argued for exemptions to COVID vaccine mandates. When it comes to the effects of COVID restrictions, the WHO official highlighted the importance of looking after people's mental health when movement was restricted. He also pointed out other potential problems that may be escalated during lockdowns such as domestic violence.
Parts of Europe have seen an increase in COVID-related protests and riots in the past weeks in response to renewed lockdows and restrictions addressing what appears to be a fourth wave of COVID in the region. According to U.S. News, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in several northwest European cities on Saturday to oopse COVID restrictions implemented in response to a surge in cases.
According to the report, Austria became the first country in Western Europe to impose a lockdown in November and establish mandatory COVID vaccines beginning February 2022. In Vienna, about 1,200 police officers were deployed for the protest at the central Ring boulevard, where 1,500 people attended a country-protest. In the Dutch town of Utrecht, several thousand people also protested against renewed restrictions that began last weekend.
Al Jazeera reported that in Belgium, police clashed with protesters on Sunday when they rose up against compulsory health measures against COVID. About 8,000 people marched through Brussels to the headquarters of the European Union. Protesters chanted "Freedom!" while letting off fireworks. The crowd was about one-fourth of the massive 35,000-strong anti-vaccine protesters who gathered in November to protest.
The protests came after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that it was time to "think about mandatory vaccination," which was widely opposed by speakers at the demonstrations. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo on Friday announced renewed measures to limit the spread of COVID, including moving school Christmas holidays earlier and requiring children aged six and above to wear face masks.
Belgium is seeing a daily average of over 17,800 new COVID cases and 44 deaths. About 800 people with severe COVID are currently in intensive care units in hospitals around the country, taking away medical resources from other severely ill patients. Meanwhile, protests have also erupted in Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy over the weekend.