Austria goes into lockdown and makes COVID-19 vaccines mandatory: NPR – Community News
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Austria goes into lockdown and makes COVID-19 vaccines mandatory: NPR

People wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus as they walk in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday.

Michael Gruber/AP


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Michael Gruber/AP

VIENNA – Austria is entering a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Friday, as new COVID-19 infections hit an all-time high amid a pandemic wave across Europe.

The lockdown will start on Monday and will initially last 10 days, Schallenberg said.

And from 1 February, the country will also make vaccinations mandatory.

Most shops will close and cultural events will be canceled next week. People will only be able to leave their homes for certain specific reasons, such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

Wolfgang Mueckstein, the country’s health minister, said kindergartens and schools would remain open for those who had to go there, but all parents were asked to keep their children at home if possible.

“We don’t want a fifth wave,” Schallenberg said, according to ORF. “We don’t want a sixth or seventh wave either.”

The full lockdown is the latest attempt to contain the rapidly rising case numbers. It is the fourth nationwide lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. On Friday, the country reported 15,809 new infections, a record high.

Earlier this month, Austria introduced rules banning unvaccinated people from restaurants, hotels and major events.

And from Monday, the government will impose a national lockdown only for unvaccinated people.

Government officials had long promised that vaccinated people would no longer face lockdown restrictions: In the summer, then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared the pandemic “over” for those who had received the vaccine. But as the number of virus cases continued to rise, the government said it had no choice but to expand it for everyone.

“This is very painful,” Schallenberg said.

Mueckstein, the health minister, said many factors have contributed to the current situation, including the lower-than-expected vaccination rate in Austria and the seasonal impact of the virus. But he also apologized for state and federal leaders’ initial reluctance to implement tougher measures.

“Unfortunately, even we as a federal government have not met our standards in some areas,” he said. “I want to apologize for that.”

After 10 days, the effects of the lockdown will be assessed. If virus cases have not decreased sufficiently, it can be extended to a maximum of 20 days.

Austrian intensive care doctors welcomed the government’s decision.

“The record infection rates that we are now experiencing day in and day out will only be reflected with delay in normal and intensive care units. It really is high time for a complete shutdown,” said Walter Hasibeder, the president of the Society of Anesthesiology, CPR and Intensive Care Medicine, the Austrian news agency APA told.

“Given current developments in infection, we believe there are no alternatives to an even greater contact restriction than recently, so any measures that help curb the momentum are welcome,” he added.

The country has reported more than 10,000 new cases of infection every day for the past seven days. Hospitals have been flooded with many new COVID-19 patients and the number of deaths has also risen again. In Austria, 11,951 people have died from the virus so far.

The situation is especially dire in the regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria, which have been particularly hard hit by the rising number of cases. In Salzburg, for example, the seven-day rate of new infections is almost twice the national average.

Hospitals in both states have warned in recent days that their ICUs were reaching capacity, and hospitals in Salzburg had begun discussing possible triage procedures to take on only the worst cases.

Austria, a country of 8.9 million inhabitants, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe: only 65.7% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Despite all the persuasion and campaigning, too few people have decided to get vaccinated, Schallenberg said, leaving the country no choice but to introduce mandatory vaccinations in February.

The chancellor said details would be finalized in the coming weeks, but those who continued to refuse to be vaccinated should face a fine. In addition, booster shots are now available to all vaccinated individuals from four months after their second dose.

“For a long time, the consensus in this country was that we didn’t want mandatory vaccination,” Schallenberg said. “For a long time, maybe too long.”