Politics

Austria reimposes full lockdown and plans mandatory Covid vaccines

Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full coronavirus lockdown this autumn to tackle a new wave of infections, and will require its whole population to be vaccinated as of February, its government said on Friday.

Roughly two-thirds of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.

Austria introduced a lockdown for all those who were unvaccinated on Monday but since then infections have continued to set new records.

The two worst-hit provinces, Salzburg and Upper Austria, said on Thursday they would introduce their own lockdowns, raising pressure on the government to do the same nationally.

“We have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,” chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference, saying the lockdown would start on Monday and the requirement to be vaccinated on February 1st.

“It hurts that such measures still have to be taken.”

With cold weather setting in across Europe as winter approaches, governments have been forced to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns. The Netherlands has reimposed a partial lockdown, with bars and restaurants closing at 8pm.

The issue has also deepened a rift between Mr Schallenberg’s conservatives and their coalition partner, the left-wing Greens. Mr Schallenberg said only days ago that he did not want to impose extra restrictions on the unvaccinated, even as health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called for a nighttime curfew.

Separately, Germany’s coronavirus situation is so grave that a lockdown, including people who have been vaccinated, cannot be ruled out, the health minister said on Friday.

“We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out,” acting health minister Jens Spahn told a news conference.

Germany reported 52,970 new coronavirus cases and 201 deaths on Friday, bringing total deaths to 98,739.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that, in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of Covid-19 patients, large parts of public life would be restricted to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness.

Germany’s upper house of parliament is expected to pass the new coronavirus measures on Friday. Mr Spahn also said the health ministry was in talks with Pfizer and other companies to order medicines to treat Covid-19. – Reuters

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