Protests erupt across Europe over new Covid restrictions as Austria re-enters full lockdown

·3-min read
Protests erupt across Europe over new Covid restrictions as Austria re-enters full lockdown

Violent clashes between police and anti-lockdown protesters have erupted across Europe as governments seek to suppress a fourth Covid wave which the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns could kill 500,000 by March.

The Austrian government was accused of becoming a “fascist dictatorship” by the far-right Freedom Party for saying vaccines would become mandatory as of next year after just 66 per cent took up the jab - one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Activists spurned on by the Freedom Party, blew horns, hit drums and branded toilet brushes as they streamed into Heroes’ Square to protest the announcement of a new lockdown, which came into force on Monday.

From midnight, Austrians have been asked to work from home and non-essential shops have closed.

Tens of thousands of protesters angrily opposing Covid passes, which deny the unvaccinated access into restaurants or bars, also marched through the streets of Brussels over the weekend.

Some wearing black hoods threw stones at police in Brussels on Sunday as they advanced with water cannon at the main junction in front of the European Union Commission headquarters.

Activists also threw smoke bombs and fireworks, the newspaper Le Soir reported.

Protesters set up fire in the street during a demonstration against Belgium government's measures in Brussels (AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters set up fire in the street during a demonstration against Belgium government's measures in Brussels (AFP via Getty Images)

Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country’s fourth Covid-19 wave.

The backlash against new Covid rules also swept across Croatia and Italy after police in Rotterdam, Netherlands opened fire on a crowd on Friday in a night the mayor described as “an orgy of violence”.

Four people believed to have been hit by police bullets remained in hospital on Sunday, a statement by the authorities said.

Protests erupted for a third night in a row on Sunday in the Dutch town of Enschede where police used batons to try to disperse a crowd, according to videos posted to social media.

A protester throws a bicycle at a police vehicle in Rotterdam (via REUTERS)
A protester throws a bicycle at a police vehicle in Rotterdam (via REUTERS)

In Leeuwarden, police vans were pelted with rocks and black-clad groups chanted and set off flares.

Responding to the worst clashes since the Netherlands went into full lockdown in January police said five officers had been injured overnight Saturday and at least 64 people arrested including dozens who threw fireworks and fences during a soccer match at Feyenoord Rotterdam’s stadium.

On Saturday 35,000 people, including large contingents of the far-right, marched in Vienna against coronavirus restrictions a day after Austria’s government announced a new lockdown and said vaccines would be made compulsory next year.

Demonstrators wave Austrian flags as they gather during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party (APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Demonstrators wave Austrian flags as they gather during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party (APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Many demonstrators in central Vienna waved Austrian flags and carried signs with slogans such as “no to vaccination”, “enough is enough” or “down with the fascist dictatorship”.

The Freedom Party (FPO) and other vaccine-critical groups had already been planning a show of force in Vienna on Saturday before Friday’s announcement, which prompted FPO leader Herbert Kickl to respond that “As of today, Austria is a dictatorship”.

Kickl could not attend because he has caught Covid.

“We are not in favour of our government’s measures,” said one protester, who was part of a group wearing tin foil on their heads and brandishing toilet brushes.

A police spokesman said there had been fewer than 10 arrests, for breaches of coronavirus restrictions and the ban on Nazi symbols.

The protests come as the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was “very worried” about the spread of Covid-19 in Europe as a fresh wave of infections sweeps across the continent.

Regional director Dr Hans Kluge told the BBC that 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken.

Dr Kluge said an increase in mask wearing could immediately help.

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