Austria’s Covid lockdown for unvaccinated already effective, chancellor says

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told AFP that the "difficult" lockdown imposed on Monday on unvaccinated people had led to increased coronavirus vaccination rates.

Visitors wait for hot drinks at the traditional annual Christmas Market outside of Vienna's city hall
Visitors wait for hot drinks at the traditional annual Christmas Market outside of Vienna's city hall. Authorities began vaccinating children between 5 and 11 against coronavirus in the capital on November 15, 2021, among soaring rates that saw a country wide lockdown for some two million people who have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. JOE KLAMAR / AFP

“The developments in recent days, the huge increases at the vaccination centres, have shown that this threat scenario that we created with the… restrictions is having an effect,” Schallenberg said in a phone interview.

On Monday Austria became the first EU country to lockdown the unvaccinated in a bid to halt spiralling virus infection rates of around 12,000 per day in the country of 8.9 million.

The measure has been criticised as unenforceable and unlikely to bring contacts down to the necessary level, with vaccination sceptics also calling it discriminatory.

Official figures show a rise in the numbers of people in Austria coming forward for their first vaccination in recent days as the government announced progressively harsher restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Over the past seven days 128,813 people have received their first vaccine dose.

“As a government, we have not taken this step lightly to deprive a section of the population of its freedoms,” Schallenberg said.

But he rejected criticism that the lockdown for the unvaccinated was unfair.

“When one part of the population is taking the necessary steps to protect itself and others, and another part of the population isn’t… taking measures to separate those two parts and reduce contacts is not discrimination,” Schallenberg said.

He has thus far opposed any suggestion of tougher restrictions for vaccinated people.

“I want to persuade the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, not shut away the vaccinated,” he said.

With regard to vaccinating under-12s, Schallenberg said he expected a decision on the matter in “around two weeks” from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

“Then of course I will also issue an appeal for children to get vaccinated,” he said.

Vienna city authorities have pre-empted the EMA’s approval and on Monday became the first EU region to start vaccinating children aged between five and 11.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”