Austria enters nationwide lockdown to combat rising cases
Vienna Austria entered a nationwide lockdown early Monday in a desperate attempt to contain surging coronavirus infections.
The shutdown in the Alpine country comes as the average daily death rate has tripled in recent weeks and some hospitals have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity. Officials said the shutdown would last at least 10 days, but could extend up to 20 days. People will only be able to leave their homes for specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg also announced last week that Austria would introduce a mandate for the vaccine from February 1. Details of how the mandate will work are not yet clear, but the government has said that people who don’t stick to the mandate will. Facing fines.
Schallenberg apologized to all those vaccinated on Friday, saying it was unfair for them to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions. Earlier, Austria experimented with a lockdown only for people who were not immunized, but it did not slow down the infection enough.
“I am sorry for taking such a drastic step,” he said on public radio ORF.
66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are not fully vaccinated, and vaccination rates have stabilized at one of the lowest in Western Europe.
Austria is among many Western European countries where infections are increasing rapidly and where there are concerns that vaccination rates are not enough to stem the increase in hospital winters.
Thanks in large part to vaccinations, hospitals in Austria are not under the same strain as they were earlier in the pandemic, but many are still struggling to deal with the rising numbers of COVID-19 patients while also trying to wind down their backlog with overworked or sick staff.
Austria’s new lockdown is the fourth since the pandemic began and comes as the country struggles unsuccessfully to stem rising case numbers. On Friday, it reported 15,809 new infections, an all-time high.
Christmas markets, restaurants and most stores are closed for at least 10 days, while kindergartens and schools will remain open for those who need them, but all parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible.
After 10 days, the effects of closure will be evaluated. If virus cases are not sufficiently reduced, they can be extended to a maximum of 20 days. After that, the lockdown will be lifted for all vaccinated people, but it could remain in place for those who refuse to be vaccinated, the government says.
The new measures, particularly the vaccine mandate, have met with fierce opposition among some in the country. Saturday’s demonstration in the capital, Vienna, attracted 40,000 people, according to police, including members of far-right parties and groups.
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