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Spain and Portugal, vaccine champions, focus on the reluctant few

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MADRID РJuan Esteban Mari̱o, a healthy 29-year-old man, is one of the rare cohort in Spain that has resisted strong recommendations from health officials to get the vaccine. His stance only changed when he planned an end-of-year vacation in Portugal, where authorities crack down on unvaccinated visitors as they face a wave of infections and try to limit the spread of the disease. omicron variant.

“I needed to get the vaccine to leave the country and return without any inconvenience,” Mariño said Wednesday at a large vaccination center in Madrid as he pressed sterile gauze against his left arm and rolled down his sleeve.

“With the new variant and the restrictions that make life difficult, getting the vaccine has become inevitable,” he added.

Long queues to get vaccinated have returned to Portugal and Spain, two countries neighboring the European Union which, despite vaccination figures the envy of the world, are stepping up efforts to close the gap on the few residents still unvaccinated. Both countries have reported cases of the omicron variant.

The folks at the Wizink Center, a large concert hall turned into a “vaccine-drome” in the Spanish capital of Madrid, give a range of reasons why they didn’t get the vaccine sooner. In addition, many people over the age of 60 were lining up for booster shots, which authorities want to extend to younger groups soon.

But, like Mariño, many say that proving they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID-19 is becoming mandatory in many places that have resisted health passes until now.

Iris Reichen, a 61-year-old German-Spanish interpreter, said she was forced to be shot by reports of the fast-spreading omicron variant, the possible impact of which is still being considered by health experts , and because his social life had suffered.

“Friends no longer invite the unvaccinated to their private dinners,” she said.

A recent survey by the Spanish polling institute CIS showed that around a third of the 1.6 million unvaccinated adults in Spain are still planning to be vaccinated. But nearly 3% of those polled – the equivalent of a million people if the figure were extrapolated to the country’s total population – planned to avoid it.

The poll, which CIS conducted last month before parts of Spain introduced mandatory COVID-19 passes, showed resistance was across the political spectrum but more prevalent among the middle class with education superior.

In an internal report leaked Wednesday, a panel of experts advising Spanish health authorities warned of the “false security” that health certificates can give in a country where nearly 90% of people eligible for a vaccine are already vaccinated. Experts have insisted that wearing a mask, which is mandatory in confined spaces and a common sight on the streets of Spain, and other social distancing measures are always more effective against contagion.

Authorities in the northeastern region of Catalonia have reopened mass vaccination centers for vaccines and are allowing people to get walk-in appointments after announcing health certificates would be required to take advantage of everything from a restaurant meal to a concert.

Catalan Public Health Secretary Carmen Cabezas said “the first and second injections are on the increase” and that in the last week alone, authorities have seen an 81% increase in the first doses of the vaccine. administered compared to the previous week.

In some cases, police have had to be called in to help disperse crowds formed long after the scheduled closing times for vaccination centers.

Long queues also formed in Lisbon, where Portugal’s largest vaccination center to date first opened on Wednesday as authorities tried to encourage the 2% of the population who did not are not yet vaccinated – the lowest rate in Europe – and speed up booster injections.

Despite the country’s excellent immunization record, cases have steadily increased over the past two months, although hospitalizations are far from worrying levels seen in previous outbreaks. An outbreak of the omicron strain among members of a professional football club in Lisbon and a medical worker who has been in contact with them has also added to concerns.

From Wednesday, Portuguese authorities were tightening passenger entry conditions and making indoor masks mandatory as the country entered a “state of calamity”. The crisis declaration, Portugal’s second this year, is a step below the state of emergency and gives the government the power to impose stricter measures without parliamentary approval.

Masks are now mandatory in enclosed public spaces, and individuals must show proof of vaccination, have recovered from COVID-19 or a negative virus test to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels. Nightclubs, hospitals, nursing homes, and sports venues also require testing from visitors and patrons, including those who have been vaccinated.

“With the test, we feel more comfortable. We don’t leave the club thinking, ‘Do I have COVID or not? “Sara Lopes, a 21-year-old saleswoman, said at a Lisbon nightclub as the new requirements took effect at midnight.

“It’s a bit of a hassle having to make an appointment after an appointment at the pharmacy, but it’s okay,” she said.

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Alves reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Alicia León in Madrid and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, ​​Spain, contributed to this report.

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