The Austrians are enjoying the last day before the impending lockdown in the middle of the fourth COVID-19 wave

Austrians enjoys a final day out in coffee shops and at Christmas markets on Sunday before the government imposes a nationwide lockdown to combat a growing fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

The measures, which take effect on Monday and are expected to last for a maximum of 20 days but will be reassessed after 10, require people to stay home for basic reasons such as buying groceries, going to the doctor and exercising.

Restaurants and most shops will close and major events will be canceled. Schools and nurseries will remain open, but parents are encouraged to keep their children at home.

A salesman talks on the phone at a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. (AP)
People sitting in an outdoor cafe on a street decorated with Christmas lights in Vienna, Austria. (AP)

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg also announced on Friday that Austria will introduce a vaccine mandate from 1 February. The details of how the mandate will work are not yet clear.

In an interview published Sunday in the newspaper Kurier, Schallenberg said it was “sad” that the government had to resort to a mandate to ensure enough people are vaccinated.

Almost 66 percent of Austria’s 8.9 million population is fully vaccinated, which is one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Anti-lockdown protesters hold torches and banners in Vienna, Austria. (AP)
Anti-lockdown protesters hold torches and banners in Vienna, Austria. (AP)

On the impending lockdown, Schallenberg said he and other officials had hoped this summer that such restrictions would no longer be necessary and that it was a difficult decision to introduce a new lockdown for vaccinated people as well.

“That people’s freedoms should be restricted again is, believe me, also difficult for me to bear,” he said.

The new initiatives, especially the vaccine mandate, have been met with fierce opposition among some in the country. A Saturday protest in the capital Vienna drew 40,000 people, including members of right-wing extremist parties and groups, according to police.

People walking on a street decorated with Christmas lights in Vienna, Austria. (AP)

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said on Sunday that the anti-coronavirus protest scene is about to radicalize.

An “extremely diverse group of people” took part in the protests, Nehammer said, according to the Austrian press agency. They included “worried citizens, but also right-wing extremists and well-known neo-Nazis,” he said.

A seller presents goods at a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. (AP)

On Saturday, Austria reported 15,297 new infections, after a week in which daily cases peaked at 10,000. Hospitals, especially those in the hardest-hit regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria, are overwhelmed as the number of coronavirus patients increases in intensive care units.

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