A local lawyer is invoking European rules to argue the Cypriot government’s measure banning unvaccinated citizens from certain places is a violation of fundamental human rights, with health experts attributing decisions in the last few weeks to the Cabinet.
During interviews on local television programs on Thursday, attorney-at-law Michalis Pikis suggested that the government’s rule allowing only vaccinated persons to access certain public venues is a form of attempting to force citizens to get vaccinated.
This week a government measure banning unvaccinated persons from accessing indoor public venues including bars and restaurants drew strong reactions from a large segment of the population, along with business owners choosing to shut down dine-in service for all customers to avoid discrimination.
Government officials say difficult decisions have been made after taking into account scientific views, in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus and boost vaccinations, but some experts have raised questions as to whether specific measures were appropriate in the current fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Pikis believes that banning unvaccinated persons is an attempt to force vaccination upon individuals by means of social pressure.
'The strictness of the measure that has gone into effect is such where essentially a person is forced to get vaccinated'
“The strictness of the measure that has gone into effect is such where essentially a person is forced to get vaccinated,” the attorney said.
Pikis, who heads the criminal law committee of the Cyprus Bar Association, went on to argue that the ban went against a large domain of social activity as it included indoor and outdoor sports fields, theaters, eateries, social events such as weddings and christenings, entertainment venues and venues within hotel premises.
“I believe these restrictions are very serious to such a degree that they raise the issue of direct or indirect coercion,” PIkis said.
The attorney went on to cite European Union legislation that calls on member states to make clear to their citizens that vaccination against COVID-19 is not compulsory, while also referring to a European Directive on 14 June 2021 that gives people a chance to elect not get vaccinated without suffering consequences such as discrimination.
Brussels worried over prepaid doses left unused
Earlier this month European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for more debate on the issue, saying it was up to the states to formulate policy while also regretting that too many people were still refusing to get shots voluntarily.
The President also regretted that large amounts of prepaid doses were being left unused.
"We have the life-saving vaccines but they are not being used adequately everywhere, and this is an enormous health cost," von der Leyen said.
But Pikis, who said he had his third vaccination recently and further clarified he was not against measures, argued such measures should not be disproportionate so that “we don’t end up sacrificing everything for the sake of measures.”
“There always has to be a proportionality criterion and if that is not the case, then a human right is being violated,” Pikis said.
Previous court rulings in the Republic of Cyprus had dismissed class action lawsuits filed by local attorneys, who also argued measures decided by the Cabinet were disproportionate.
Government officials have been arguing that measures were both appropriate to fight the spread of the pandemic but also in line with EU guidelines.
EU dodges the big question
But there has been little debate in Cyprus or at the EU-level regarding compulsory vaccinations, prompting local experts to reiterate calls for more targeted and proportionate measures.
Christos Petrou, a health expert who advises the government, said he was surprised by the decision on the unvaccinated ban, while Constantinos Tsioutis who is the head of the advisory committee called for a “rational and well thought-out management plan” for the pandemic.
Recently there were signs of serious debate starting to take place in Cyprus and other countries while Brussels has been dodging the big question.
"It is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now - how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union. This needs discussion, this needs a common approach, but I think it’s a discussion that has to be led," von der Leyen said.