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Vienna coronavirus protesters ‘tried to storm and occupy Austrian Parliament’

An anti-lockdown protest turned violent in Vienna on Sunday, with some participants attempting to storm and occupy Austrian parliament. More than 1,700 citations were made, while several police officers were injured.

Vienna coronavirus protesters 'tried to storm and occupy Austrian Parliament'
Protesters at an anti-lockdown rally in Vienna on January 31st. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Around 10,000 anti-lockdown demonstrators descended on Vienna on Sunday. While the protests began peacefully, they eventually turned violent – with some demonstrators attempting to storm the Austrian Parliament. 

The protesters’ attempts on the parliament, which is currently closed for renovations, were thwarted by police, Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper reports

Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer thanked police for their efforts amid the “emergence of a devastating situation”. 

In total, 11 arrests were made during the protests while a further 1,766 citations were issued – including 850 breaches of coronavirus measures. 

IN PICTURES: Thousands protest against coronavirus measures in Vienna 

Nehammer said the violence was led by hooligans and right-wing radicals, including a number of well known identities.

One of those arrested was ‘coronavirus skeptic leader’ Mark Rutter, who had tried to injure police officers, Austrian media reported on Monday. 

Four police officers were injured in the scuffles. 

The protest, along with 14 other rallies planned for Saturday, was not given approval by Austrian authorities due to the participants’ disregard for mask wearing, social distancing and other coronavirus measures. 

'Neo-nazi militants and thugs'

AFP reported on Sunday that the march was organised by the far-right FPÖ party, and many participants ignored government regulations on mask wearing and the respect for minimum distances from each other.

Neo-nazi militants and thugs were reportedly among the crowd, which refused to disband and blocked traffic as it began to march towards the national parliament.

Police then intervened and detained some protestors.

It was the first time that the FPÖ, and member Herbert Kickl who is a former interior minister, officially called for a protest against the third Austrian lockdown.

“We are seeing unprecedented censure,” Kickl told media Saturday, before the party put in a second request for a rally permit which was also refused.

The reason for the refusal was given as a risk of increased transmission rates of new variants, and a “lack of contact traceability” among those who were to take part in the march.

Austrian schools, sports clubs, hotels, restaurants, cultural venues and many stores have been shut to stem the spread of Covid-19, but the country's iconic ski resorts have been allowed to remain open.

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COVID-19 STATS

Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations, with 1,905 people currently hospitalised with the disease, compared to 826 three weeks ago – a 130 percent jump, data from the Health Ministry shows.

And the situation will worsen, according to Austrian experts.

The Covid prognosis consortium in Austria released a new report saying it expects an increase of 52 percent in Covid patients hospitalised in the next two weeks.

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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