Austria must impose a strict shutdown on the unvaccinated, as it fights a growing number of Covid-19 infections, in one of the most controversial measures in Europe to try to curb the pandemic.
Speaking at a press conference in the state of Tyrol on Friday, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said a nationwide blockade for those who had not been beaten would apply from Monday.
Austrians who have so far endured being vaccinated can expect Christmas to be “uncomfortable”, he told former journalists.
The measures were necessary to protect the rights of those who had been vaccinated or recovered from the virus. “I do not see why two-thirds of the population should lose their freedom because another-third is hesitant,” Schallenberg said.
Unvaccinated people have already been excluded from the country’s restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
The government has not yet revealed details, but Chancellor officials say measures will almost certainly reflect the harsh lockdown restrictions last seen in Austria last autumn and spring.
If this is the case, unvaccinated people will only be ordered to leave their homes once a day for a short period of time for “significant” reasons, such as buying food.
Police will be deployed to conduct random checks in public places to check people’s vaccination status, the Interior Ministry said. Violation of the rules will risk large fines.
Schallenberg said additional measures were also under consideration, such as a mandatory vaccination requirement for employees in certain roles or workplaces.
About 33.6 percent of Austrians have not yet taken a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine – one of the lowest rates in the EU – according to public health data.
Austria this week recorded its highest infection rate of the entire pandemic with a rolling seven-day average of 9,593 daily infections reached on Thursday. The previous high almost exactly one year ago was 7,464.
Germany on Friday added Austria to its list of “high-risk countries” along with Romania, Croatia, Latvia, Britain, the United States and others, said Deputy Health Minister Jens Spahn. According to this classification, anyone entering Germany from Austria who has not been vaccinated or recovered from the virus must be quarantined for 10 days.
Schallenberg’s announcement sparked a violent backlash, reinforcing concerns that vaccination would become one of the main fronts between Europe’s political mainstream and right-wing populism.
Herbert Kickl, leader of the Austrian right-wing extremist Freedom Party – which won a quarter of the vote in the 2019 federal election – accused the government of “corona fascism” and said that “all forms of resistance… Are now necessary”.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated.
The measures come when the German authorities proposed tougher restrictions on coronavirus, as the seven-day incidence rate – which reached 263 people per year. 100,000 on Friday – rose to a historic high for the fifth day in a row.
Spahn called for access to public events to be restricted to those vaccinated or recovered and required them to be tested before entry. At present, people who have just been tested can also participate.
“We have to do everything we can to break this dynamic,” he said at a news conference Friday. “If nothing happens, the incidence rates will continue to double every two weeks. We have too high a number of infections, and at the same time the vaccination rate is still too low.”
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main public health authority, called on Friday to reduce the number of people allowed to large events or to cancel them, and that bars and clubs in high-rise areas should be closed.
Further reporting by Erika Solomon in Berlin
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