Austrians ‘do not feel free’ due to Covid pandemic

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has published the results of a Europe-wide study about the impacts of the pandemic on society.

Austrians 'do not feel free' due to Covid pandemic
Austrians report not feeling free due to the pandemic. Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP

A new study has revealed political and societal divisions in countries across Europe as a result of the pandemic, with people in Austria experiencing a significant perceived loss of freedom.

The report, titled ​​Europe’s invisible rifts: How Covid-19 polarises European politics, shows 42 percent of people in Austria don’t feel free to organise their daily lives in the way they want to due to the pandemic.

This was followed by 42 percent saying they feel “partly free” and 15 percent saying they feel “free”.

Two years ago, 78 percent of people in Austria said they felt free, which means Austria has experienced the greatest change in perceived freedom out of the 12 EU countries surveyed.

Only in Germany was the loss of perceived freedom more acutely felt with 49 percent saying they don’t feel free.

READ MORE: EU recommends tighter restrictions on American tourists as US removed from Covid safe travel list

The next highest result was in France with 26 percent of people acknowledging a loss of freedom.

The ECFR looked at data from 12 EU member countries, which was then divided into four regions: North (Sweden, Denmark), West (Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands), East (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria) and South (Italy, Portugal, Spain).

In the east and south, many people reported that Covid-19 has had a serious impact on their lives. Whereas, in the west and north, many people described the pandemic as like a “gruesome spectator sport”.

What about the rest of Europe?

According to the ECFR survey, 22 percent of people across Europe feel their freedom has been affected as a result of the pandemic and the associated restrictions.

But the authors of the report, ​​Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, also discovered that Europe has become divided, like during the Euro and refugee crises.

Who has been hit hardest?

The report shows that people who have suffered financially are more likely to say restrictions have been too severe and are sceptical of governments.

FOR MEMBERS: Can I use a foreign vaccination certificate as proof in Austria?

Additionally, Krastev and Leonard described the intergenerational gap in European society as “worrying”, with older generations less impacted by the pandemic than younger generations.

Almost two thirds (64 percent) of respondents over 60 say they have not experienced any personal disadvantages from the pandemic.

However, only 43 percent of people under the age of 30 say they have not been personally disadvantaged. Instead, they believe they are bearing the brunt of the aftermath of the crisis, especially young people in the south and east of Europe. 

The report states: “Across Europe, governments were right to focus on saving the lives of the oldest, but the time has come to focus on the problems of the young.”

The authors warn the pandemic could have “profound effects” on the EU, especially on projects such as freedom of movement, the pan-European economic recovery plan and the EU’s relations with the rest of the world.

Krastev and Leonard say social tensions are already appearing in some countries and the divisions could lead to a “deep divide” that results in the emergence of a new political age in Europe.

READ MORE: Austria announces new rules for schools

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Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were ‘unconstitutional’

Austria's constitutional court found that banning unvaccinated people from going to hairdressers or cultural institutions was unconstitutional

Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were 'unconstitutional'

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has found a regulation which stopped people from going to hairdressers in the second lockdown for the unvaccinated was unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.

However, the Court of Justice did confirm it was admissible to distinguish between people with and without 2G evidence (proof they had recovered from or been vaccinated against Covid-19), meaning the lockdown for the unvaccinated was itself legal.

READ ALSO: Four options: These are Austria’s autumn Covid lockdown plans

As there were exceptions to the lockdown, allowing people without vaccinations to leave their homes to “cover the necessary basic needs of daily life”, this should have included trips to the hairdressers as part of these “basic needs” on a long term, the court ruled.

It clarified that the rules were at first supposed to last for 10 days, but as the lockdown got extended several times, lasting a total of 11 weeks, the “basic needs” evolved and should have included hairdresser visits.

According to the Constitutional Court, it was also illegal for the government to ban unvaccinated people from entering cultural institutions in autumn 2021.

In this case, the reason was that people were still allowed to go to church and other places of religion, which the court found was “in violation of equality”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The court found the ban on entering sports facilities ordered by the Minister of Health during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 was also unlawful, as there was not sufficient justification, broadcaster ORF reported.

Strict Covid-19 measures

Austria was one of the countries which imposed several lockdown periods during the pandemic, as The Local reported. While some were aimed at the entire population, more recently, only those who didn’t get vaccinated against Covid-19 were prevented from going out of their homes without a justification (such as grocery shopping or emergencies).

The country had also imposed a Covid-19 vaccination mandate, but that was scrapped after new variants of the virus evolved into less severe cases of the disease, the government said.

Currently, there are few coronavirus restrictions in place. You can check out all the measures across Austria here.