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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‘The pandemic is not over’: Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

Austria's capital has decided to keep mandatory FFP2 masks in public transport but is dropping them in supermarkets.

'The pandemic is not over': Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

Austria’s capital Vienna will still have mandatory usage of FFP2 masks even if the federal government is dropping the requirement in the rest of the country.

It will still be mandatory in Vienna to wear masks when public transport, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, SPÖ Mayor Michael Ludwig announced this Tuesday.

People no longer will need to wear masks in supermarkets and other essential trade, though. The decision was taken after a meeting with the city crisis committee and health authorities, according to the mayor.

“The pandemic is not over yet. We will remain on the consistent and safe path”, Ludwig said.

Earlier this Tuesday, Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) had announced the country would “pause” mask requirements from June 1st in all but health establishments during the summer months, as reported.

READ ALSO: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Rauch justified the decision by saying that the coronavirus numbers, both of new infections and of hospitalised people, have significantly dropped and maintained a downwards trend for weeks.

“The number of new infections has fallen, as well as the number of people in hospitals due to Covid-19, for several weeks now. This is good news”, he said.

Since the last major easing step in mid-April, the FFP2 obligation has only been in force in enclosed spaces of hospitals and homes, public transport and taxis, in the customer area of vital trade, in party traffic of administrative authorities and in institutions for the practice of religion outside trade fairs.

However, the federal government sets out the minimum standard for the country, but the different states may adopt stricter measures. Vienna has often kept tougher regulations during the pandemic, including a more extended period when only vaccinated or recovered people were allowed in bars and restaurants.

Vaccination campaign

The Viennese mayor also commented on the suspended vaccine mandate law, stating that vaccination protects and the city would have a “corresponding vaccination campaign soon”.

Ludwig added that he would demand the same from the federal government. “All of this is done to protect the health of the Viennese population”, he said.

Austria this Tuesday reported 2,177 new coronavirus infections after 185,230 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry. Currently, there are 596 people hospitalised with Covid-19 and 57 in intensive care units.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,607 people have died from Covid-19 in the country.