In Europe, where the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus led to 7.4 million new reported cases of COVID-19 this past week, Dr. Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization Europe, made a startling announcement on Tuesday. Given the “new West to East tidal wave” across the continent, his agency believes that more than half of Europeans could “be infected in the next six to eight weeks.”

Even before Kluge’s dire warning, however, harsh COVID restrictions were going into effect in Europe. On Monday, for example, Italians awoke to a new reality: Unless they are fully vaccinated against COVID or recently recovered, they can no longer go to restaurants or bars, nor can they even use public transport — even if they show proof of a negative PCR test. Italy’s government also this week made vaccination compulsory for those over 50.

Vaccines are required in Greece for citizens over the age of 60, and starting next month in Austria inoculations will be mandated for those 14 and up. Noncompliant Austrians face fines of more than$4,000.

For many Europeans, these moves seem downright draconian.

“Now I can’t even go to the bank or the barber,” said Renzo, a 40-something antiques dealer in Florence who has resisted getting inoculated with an mRNA vaccine over fears they were rushed out too quickly. “I can only go out to the supermarket or the pharmacy. It feels like I’m under house arrest.”

But with more countries enacting harsh restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus, Europe is quickly becoming off-limits for the unjabbed, and sparking a backlash in the process.

“In general,” Finnish sociologist Niko Pyröhen, a senior researcher at the University of Helsinki, told Yahoo News that Europeans “don’t want to see all these regulations and restrictions. They just want to get their vaccines, and then they want it to be done.”

Renzo added that he knows people, including his cousin, who are purposely “trying to get COVID,” solely because being recently recovered allows them to get Italy’s latest health pass without getting vaccinated. “It’s crazy,” he said.

Epidemiologists agree, pointing out that even if the Omicron variant appears less severe than previous strains, it is nevertheless hospitalizing and killing people and may still have long-term consequences. “It’s playing Russian roulette,” said biochemist Salvador Macip, author of the book “Modern Epidemics” and an adviser for Barcelona’s regional health authority.

For others, however, the risks from the virus pale in comparison to the pain of lost liberties.

“For me, Europe has become an oppressive place to live,” said Vicky Veiga, who has lived on three continents and now owns a yoga studio in Barcelona. “It’s shocking to say that.” Now she’s hoping to move “to a country with a wide variety of vaccines but no vaccine mandate.”

“There’s a debate in all democracies now about the role of the state and how far this can go,” said Roland Freudenstein, vice president and head of the think tank Globsec Brussels, noting that the same debates being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court about the right of government to mandate vaccines are echoing in Europe’s parliaments and living rooms. As countries keep flexing their muscles and imposing more demands on citizens’ bodies, “a rising number of people are getting fed up — and many people are warning of long-term consequences of a state which to some looks like it’s become Big Brother.”

In France, negative COVID tests, which until recently entitled residents to a COVID health pass, no longer grant residents entry to most public places. “I did not want to get vaccinated,” an American businessman living in Nice who requested anonymity told Yahoo News. “Now I don’t have a choice if I want to go out.”

In Germany, where the government is hoping to pass a vaccine requirement, the unvaccinated are barred from eateries and drinking establishments, and even those who are doubly vaccinated or recovered from recent infection must show negative test results. Only those with three COVID shots are exempt.

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