Austria goes back into lockdown despite outcry against EU's stiffest Covid rules

·2-min read

A 10-day nationwide lockdown came into force in Austria Monday, despite large protests Saturday against sweeping new coronavirus rules. Vaccinations are to become compulsory from February, giving Austria the strictest health rules in the European Union.

Tens of thousands of people, many of them far-right supporters, protested in Vienna a day after the government's announcement Friday.

Many people waved Austrian flags and carried signs with slogans such as "no to vaccination", "enough is enough" or "down with the fascist dictatorship".

Police figures said that by mid-afternoon the crowds had swelled to roughly 35,000 people.

Austria has one of the lowest Covid vaccination rates in western Europe, with roughly 66 percent of people fully vaccinated.

Last week Austria had imposed a lockdown for those not vaccinated or recently cured. But infections have continued to rise to alarming levels among the Alpine EU state's population of nearly 9 million people.

Tougher rules

The new, sweeping lockdown will start on Monday, while vaccination against Covid-19 will become mandatory from February 1 next year, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said.

The lockdown will initially last 20 days with an evaluation after 10 days.

"Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated," Schallenberg told a press conference in the western Tyrol state, where he met regional government heads.

"Sustainably increasing the vaccination rate is the only way to get out of this vicious circle," he added.

Schools will remain open though parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible. Teleworking is also recommended.

Scepticism

Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament.

The opposition party NEOs said the government should have acted sooner to avoid intensive care units from struggling, thus preventing another lockdown – the fourth in the country since the pandemic hit Europe last year.

"Austria would have spared itself all of this if decisive action had been taken in summer and early autumn," NEOs chief Beate Meinl-Reisinger said.

"Austria is now a dictatorship!" said Herbert Kickl, the head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which was a junior partner in the country's last government.

Vaccinating children

On Monday, Vienna city authorities also became the first in the EU to start inoculating children between the ages of five and 11.

They said they would increase the offer in line with high demand, even though the European Medicines Agency has not yet approved any coronavirus vaccines for that age bracket.

Other European countries are also tightening restrictions as Covid cases surge across the continent, but so far none have reimposed full lockdowns.

(with wires)

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