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.
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.
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".
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.
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.