Country makes Covid vaccine mandatory, returns to lockdown

The pandemic is far from over – and Austria is arguably the canary in the coal mine for what lies ahead for many nations.

The country of nearly 9 million people has been forced into drastic measures to once again stop surging Covid-19 cases.

Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full coronavirus lockdown as the northern autumn has turned rather bleak for a number of European populations.

The country is also set to make the jab mandatory and will require its entire population to be vaccinated as of February, the government announced.

Crowds walk past a clothing store at Vienna's famous shopping street. Source: Getty
Austria is now rushing out its booster program as lockdown returns. Source: Getty

Administrative penalties will be imposed for violations of the mandatory vaccination rule, the country's Chancellor told the public, but details of the mandate are still to be hammered out in the coming weeks.

Roughly two-thirds of Austria's population is fully vaccinated – one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Its infections are among the highest on the continent, according to a Reuters tally, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.

Austria made global headlines when it introduced a lockdown for all those who were unvaccinated earlier this week, but since then infections have continued to set new records.

Police officers monitor compliance after introducing a lockdown for the unvaccinated. Source: Getty
Police officers monitor compliance after introducing a lockdown for the unvaccinated. Source: Getty

With vaccine holdouts put under heavy restrictions on Monday (local time), soon the rules were extended by local governments.

Officials from 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 1.

"It hurts that such measures still have to be taken.

"We don't want a fifth wave, we don't want a sixth and seventh wave," he said.

The issue has deepened a rift between Schallenberg's conservatives and their coalition partner, the left-wing Greens.

Schallenberg said only days ago he did not want to impose extra restrictions on the unvaccinated, even as Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called for a night-time curfew.

Restrictions tightening across Europe

Austria had relaxed mask wearing rules in July but was forced to reintroduce mask mandates in more public settings in September.

Like most European countries, it was keen to leave the pandemic in the past but the rapidly spreading Delta variant has made that impossible.

Cases have exploded in Austria during November. Source: OurWorldinData
Cases have exploded in Austria during November. Source: OurWorldinData

Denmark scrapped all Covid-related rules in August, only for restrictions to be reimposed two months later. It's a situation that has played out across the continent.

"Don’t end up being stuck with lockdown like Austria—nobody likes it – but the way to avoid them is with mandatory mask, mass testing, and boosters," tweeted Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, an outspoken public health expert.

Germany could follow into lockdown: 'One giant outbreak'

With cold weather setting in across Europe as winter approaches, governments have been forced to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns.

The Netherlands has brought back a partial lockdown, with bars and restaurants closing at 8pm.

At protests against Covid restrictions on Friday in Rotterdam, crowds of rioters torched cars and threw rocks at police who responded with shots and water cannons.

"We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening," police spokesperson Patricia Wessels told Reuters.

Germany has also had to cancel Christmas events as cases surge. It too is reportedly considering a return to lockdown.

"We are long past individual outbreaks," Germany’s CDC head Lothar Wieler warned overnight.

"Germany, as a whole, is one giant outbreak."

The UK government, meanwhile, has not ruled out tighter restrictions over the holiday period as cases climbed earlier this month.

with Reuters

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