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COVID-19

Austria announces new national lockdown and compulsory Covid vaccination

The Austrian government on Friday announced that the country will go into its fourth nationwide lockdown and will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory, as leaders again pleaded with the public to get their vaccines.

Austria announces new national lockdown and compulsory Covid vaccination
Visitors explore the Christmas market outside Vienna's City Hall. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

The nationwide general lockdown will start on Monday, to be reviewed after the first ten days and to last for “a maximum” of 20 days for vaccinated people. This means it will end on December 13th if no further changes are made.

However, the lockdown for unvaccinated people is set to continue after the end of the general lockdown if judged necessary.

Mandatory vaccines

Austria’s Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein both said a lockdown alone was not enough to end the “vicious circle” of increasing spread of the virus and repeated lockdowns. They announced that the government would begin preparing for a general vaccination requirement to come into effect in February 2022 at the latest.

Mückstein said: “The lockdown will break the fourth wave; the way out of the fifth wave is vaccination, vaccination, vaccination.”

Chancellor Schallenberg said that despite extensive efforts, “we have not succeeded in getting enough people vaccinated”. He criticised the “irresponsible” anti-vaccine campaigns from Austrian politicians, saying: “There are too many political forces in this country, that have campaigned against [vaccination]. The consequences of this are overfilled intensive care stations and enormous human suffering.”

“This decision does not come easily to us. None of us enjoys bringing in measures that put limits on freedom,” said Schallenberg. He said that the measures were necessary because “too many among us have acted without solidarity”.

READ ALSO: What do we know about Austria’s vaccine sceptics?

As well as urging those who have not yet done so to get their first vaccine dose, the government also stressed the importance of booster doses. These will now be possible from four months after the second dose for all adult Austrians across the country, a move that has already been taken in Vienna and Salzburg as The Local has previously reported.

Fourth national lockdown

The lockdown will follow the rules that are already familiar to people in Austria. That means valid reasons for leaving the house include going to work if it is not possible to work from home, seeking medical help, shopping for essential goods (such as for food or medicines) and exercise.

Hotels, restaurants, and non-essential retail will be closed. Retail shops for essential daily needs, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, can remain open.

Schools will not be officially closed but will remain open for “those who need them”, for example young children of parents working essential jobs or those with extra learning needs, but the government called on parents to return to home-learning if at all possible.

For those children in schools, masks will be mandatory for all ages.

The governors of Salzburg and Upper Austria, the two regions with the highest spread of Covid-19, had already announced they would begin another lockdown for the whole population from Monday, lasting for at least three weeks in Salzburg and until December 17th in Upper Austria. And a lockdown was already in place for unvaccinated people across the whole country as of the start of this week.

READ ALSO: How did we get here? Why Austria is bringing in lockdowns again

The new measures were announced after Austria recorded another all-time high for new daily cases on Thursday, with 15,145 cases reported in 24 hours.

Calls for lockdown in the highest-incidence regions or across the whole country have increased over the past week, partly due to criticisms of the partial lockdown as divisive and difficult to enforce, and also due to the strain Austrian hospitals are under.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

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

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.

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