Austria: Thousands take part in coronavirus sceptic protests

More than 4,000 people turned out for the latest demonstrations against coronavirus measures in several Austrian towns and cities on Wednesday, as the government considered measures to counter them.

Austria: Thousands take part in coronavirus sceptic protests
A file photo of a coronavirus protest in Vienna from October 2020. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Police reported the presence of “extremists and radicals” elements at one such gathering, a feature of previous demonstrations that is increasingly worrying the authorities.

Austria is currently in its third coronavirus lockdown, which is scheduled to end on January 24.

The biggest demonstration on Wednesday saw 2,500 people gather in the town of Wiener Neustadt, according to police, who arrested several people for breaches of anti-coronavirus measures.

Police also said they had to intervene because “a group of extremists and radicals were causing a disturbance”. The group in question was of an “anti-democratic” tendency, they added.

READ MORE: Austria to extend coronavirus lockdown

About a thousand protesters gathered in the town of Amstetten and 500 in the southern town of Judenburg.

Smaller protests — some billed as “walks” in order to evade virus-related curbs on gatherings — were reported in several other cities and towns in different parts of the country.

The presence of extremist elements in some of the protests has caused alarm and pushed authorities to announce tighter surveillance of such events.

In the town of Braunau am Inn on Saturday, about 50 protesters stopped to pose for a photo in front of the house where Adolf Hitler was born.

Local police say several of them are now being investigated for having allegedly raised their arms in Nazi salutes.

The interior ministry said Tuesday it was preparing guidelines for tougher action against such events where necessary.

“The far-right calls for the demonstrations, they push them and use the corona cloak to spread their ideologies,” interior ministry spokesman Harald Soeroes told AFP on Tuesday.

“That's no longer about freedom of expression, that's re-engagement” in National Socialist activities, a crime under Austrian law, Soeroes said.

Local authorities would be advised to prohibit demonstrations “when there is evidence that radical elements known to authorities will participate, that banners with right-wing extremist messages will be shown,” he added.

The exact motivations and demands of the protestors are often difficult to pin down, but frustration at the repeated lockdowns as well as opposition to mask-wearing and vaccinations are common themes.

On Sunday in the capital Vienna, about 2,000 protesters gathered for one protest rally.

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EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.