(BERLIN) — Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step Monday of implementing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven’t recently had COVID-19, perhaps the most drastic of a string of measures being taken by European governments to get a massive regional resurgence of the virus under control.
The move, which took effect at midnight, prohibits people 12 and older who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going to school or university or for a walk — or getting vaccinated.
Initially, the lockdown in Alpine Country of 8.9 Million will last until Nov. 24. It doesn’t apply to children under 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated — though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinations for under-12s as part of a pilot project and reported high demand.
Officials claim that there will be increased police presence and security checks. If they break the lockdown, unvaccinated individuals can receive a maximum fine of 1,450 euro ($1,660).
“We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio. “This a dramatic step — about 2 million people in this country are affected. … What we are trying is precisely to reduce contact between the unvaccinated and vaccinated to a minimum, and also contact between the unvaccinated.”
“My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated,” Schallenberg added. “In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”
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About 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, a rate Schallenberg described as “shamefully low.” All students at schools, whether vaccinated or not, are now required to take three COVID-19 tests per week, at least one of them a PCR test.
The leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party vowed to combat the new restrictions by “all parliamentary and legal means we have available.” Herbert Kickl said that “two million people are being practically imprisoned without having done anything wrong.”
On Monday, Kickl announced on Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days, so he won’t be able to attend a protest in Vienna planned for Saturday.
The authorities are worried about the rising incidence of infections and increased hospital pressure. Austria’s Monday statistics showed that there were 894.3 new cases for every 100,000 inhabitants in the seven-day period. This is much worse than the neighboring German state of Germany which, in recent days, has recorded a record number of 303 cases per 100,000 people.
Berlin on Monday became the latest of several German states to limit access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have been vaccinated or recently recovered — shutting out other unvaccinated people, even those who have tested negative. Children under 18 are not eligible.
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On Thursday, the German parliament is due to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next coalition government. These plans will allow for stricter contact restrictions, as they are being reportedly reworked.
Separately, one party in Germany that is hoping to be elected next month has indicated they are open to the idea of introducing vaccine mandates in certain areas. This was something officials have resisted so far.
“We will need compulsory vaccination … in nursing homes, in day care centers and so on,” said the Greens’ parliamentary group leader, Katrin Goering-Eckardt.
Germany is struggling to give new life to its vaccination campaigns, as only over two-thirds are fully vaccinated. Germany also needs to increase booster shots.
Angela Merkel, the outgoing Chancellor issued an appeal to all who are still unvaccinated on Saturday. “Think about it again,” she said. The country’s disease control center called last week for people to cancel or avoid large events.
To Germany’s west, the Netherlands on Saturday night implemented a partial lockdown that is to run for at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. A crowd of hundreds of youth protested the restrictions in Leeuwarden in northern Netherlands. The young men set off fireworks, and flares. Police then moved in to disperse the group.
The Austrian government’s next move may well be to tighten the screws.
ORF television was informed by Wolfgang Mueckstein, Health Minister. He said he would like to talk about further restrictions to coronavirus on Wednesday. One suggestion is to limit the time you can go out after dark. This proposal would apply also to those who have been vaccinated.
Schallenberg was however more careful.
“Of course I don’t rule out sharpening” the measures, he said, but he indicated that he doesn’t expect restrictions on bars and nightclubs at present.