Austrians enjoy the last day before the impending lockdown

Austrians enjoy the last day before the impending lockdown

Vienna Austrians were enjoying one last day in cafes and at Christmas markets Sunday before the government imposed a nationwide lockdown to combat a growing fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

The measures, which take effect on Monday and are expected to last for a maximum of 20 days but will be re-evaluated after 10 days, require people to stay home away from essential reasons such as buying groceries, going to the doctor and exercising.

Restaurants and most shops will be closed, and major events will be cancelled. Schools and nurseries will remain open, but parents are encouraged to keep their children at home.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg also announced on Friday that Austria would introduce a mandate for a vaccine from February 1. Details of how the authorization will work are not yet clear.

In an interview published Sunday in the Courier newspaper, Schallenberg said it was “sad” that the government was resorting to a mandate to ensure enough people were vaccinated.

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Less than 66% of Austria’s population of 8.9 million have been vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

About the impending shutdown, Schallenberg said he and other officials were hopeful this summer that such restrictions would not be necessary, and that it was a difficult decision to impose a new lockdown as well on vaccinated people.

“It’s hard to restrict people’s liberties again, believe me, too,” he said.

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.

On Saturday, Austria recorded 15,297 new infections, after a week in which daily cases exceeded ten thousand. Hospitals, especially those in the hardest-hit areas of Salzburg and Upper Austria, are overwhelmed as the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units rises.

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