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Anti-vaccine protests hit Europe amid surge in infections

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Demonstrators take part in a protest against the Dutch government's restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on January 16, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Thousands of people across Europe have rallied to protest against mandatory vaccination campaign as virus infections have surged across the continent.

Protesters packed Amsterdam's streets on Sunday, marching with banners and yellow umbrellas, chanting anti-government slogans and blocking the streets amid record virus infections in the country.

The police was patrolling in the streets to control the protests while authorities were appointed at several points across the city to stop and search people.

The Netherlands had one of Europe's toughest lockdowns for a month through Christmas holidays. The growing public opposition prompted Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday to ease the lockdown restrictions and announce the reopening of stores, hairdressers and gyms.

The development came as COVID-19 cases reached another record high number in the Netherlands, registering more than 36,000 infections on Sunday, data published by the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) showed. The Netherlands has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Dutch government has only vaccinated about 60 percent of the country’s population, which lags western European levels.

Another mass of people marched in Hungary's capital Budapest on Sunday protesting against COVID-19 vaccination at a rally organized by the far-right Our Homeland Movement.

“Vaccines should not be mandatory! We don't tolerate blackmail,” said the slogan of the rally where people held up banners saying: “I am unvaccinated, not a criminal” and “Enough of COVID dictatorship.”

Faced with outright refusal, many nations in the Europe 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.

“We will not allow a tiny minority of unhinged extremists to impose its will on our entire society,” Germany's new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has said, targeting the violent fringes of the anti-vaccine movement.

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.”

Several countries across Europe, such as Britain, France, and Spain are taking a new approach toward COVID-19, which says the illness is becoming a fixture of daily life.

The shift comes even as the World Health Organization cautioned this week against treating the virus like the seasonal flu, saying it was too soon to make that call.

According to the WHO, a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is still hitting the continent, while the population of much of the world remains vulnerable because of a lack of widespread vaccination.

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