Austria announces full national lockdown, mandatory vaccines

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Berlin: Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Friday announced that the country will go back into a full national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases.

Schallenberg said the lockdown will start Monday and initially last for 10 days. Most shops will close and cultural events will be cancelled.

The busy Christmas markets in Innsbruck will be a lot quieter when the new lockdown comes into effect.Credit:Getty Images

Wolfgang Mueckstein, the country’s Health Minister, said schools would remain open for those who needed them, but that all parents would be asked to keep children at home if possible.

Starting on February 1, the country will also make vaccinations mandatory, public broadcaster ORF reported.

“We do not want a fifth wave,” Schallenberg said, according to ORF. “Not do we want a sixth or seventh wave.”

Austria had initially introduced a national lockdown only for those who were not fully vaccinated, but as virus cases continued to skyrocket, the government said it had no choice but to extend it to everyone.

“This is very painful,” Schallenberg said.

The impact of the new lockdown will be assessed after 10 days. If cases have not gone down sufficiently, it can be extended to a maximum of 20 days.

Austria, a country of 8.9 million, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe.

For the past seven days, the country reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new COVID-19 patients, and deaths have been rising again, too.

Infections rise in Germany

Neighbouring Germany is also considering harsher measures as Europe grapples with a brutal surge in the pandemic.

“We’re in a situation in which we shouldn’t rule anything out,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday when asked whether another lockdown was possible.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s RKI public health institute, said Germany was in the middle one “one big outbreak.”

“This is a national emergency,” he said.

Elsewhere, Hungary reported its highest level of daily COVID infections since the start of the pandemic, showing the country’s vulnerability even with the majority of the population vaccinated.

The daily case count rose to a record 11,289, according to data published on Friday. Hungary has about 60 per cent of the population inoculated, compared with a 70 per cent European Union average.

AP, Bloomberg

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