Key points: How will Austria's new national lockdown work?
Austria has announced a national lockdown to deal with rapidly rising Covid infections. Here’s what you need to know.
From Monday, November 22nd, Austria will impose a nationwide lockdown as Covid cases have skyrocketed in the country.
Austria will also put in place a mandatory vaccination framework, with everyone in the country required to get the jab. The mandate will come in from February 1st, 2022 at the latest, the government said.
Austria is the first EU country to reimpose a full lockdown.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg made the announcements at a press conference on Friday.
The measures are supported across the Austrian political spectrum, with the centre-left Social Democrats, the centre-right Austrian People’s Party and the left-wing Greens on board.
Only the far-right Austrian Freedom Party has opposed the measures, with party boss Herbert Kickl, a vocal opponent of both the vaccines and other Covid restrictions saying on Friday that Austria “is now a dictatorship”.
What are the main rules of the lockdown?
From Monday, November 22nd, Austria will go into a three-week lockdown, which will end on December 12th.
Under the lockdown rules, people may not leave their homes except for essential reasons such as work or buying food.
Shops and restaurants will be forced to close.
Working from home will be mandatory in any job where it is possible to do so.
FFP2 masks are mandatory in all enclosed rooms.
Schools will not be officially closed but will remain open for "those who need them”, although face-to-face lessons will not take place.
This mirrors rules from lockdowns in 2020, where schools moved to distance learning but still provided care for students whose parents were unable to do so, for example young children of parents working essential jobs or those with extra learning needs.
The government called on parents to return to home-learning if at all possible.
Those who break the rules face punishments of fines.
The suite of measures will be evaluated after ten days.
Who does the lockdown apply to?
Although recent lockdowns in Austria have applied primarily to the unvaccinated, the new lockdown measures will apply to everyone regardless of vaccination status.
However, as currently formulated, from December 12th the lockdown measures will apply only to the unvaccinated.
While details are relatively sparse at this time, it appears that this means restaurants, bars, events and meeting others will be allowed only for vaccinated people.
An exception is Upper Austria, which announced that it would bring in a lockdown for everyone a day before the national announcement. The Upper Austria lockdown will last until at least December 17th, for everyone.
What about compulsory vaccination?
Everyone in Austria will need to be vaccinated from February 1st onwards, the government said on Friday.
In Europe, only the Vatican has so far mandated vaccinations.
What does this mean for travel?
With an almost complete lockdown in place, travel will be scrapped for the near future. Hotels, bars, restaurants et al will all be closed, while people can only leave the house for essential reasons.
While travel may be theoretically possible after December 12th - at least for unvaccinated people - it would be surprising if this was the case, given the strictness of the measures and the gravity of the Covid situation.
Why is the lockdown coming in place - and why is it so strict?
Austria’s Covid cases have been skyrocketing in recent weeks, with the government blaming the country’s large unvaccinated population.
On Thursday, a new record of more than 15,000 new cases were recorded in Austria, a country of nearly nine million people.
Demand for vaccinations has increased in recent days, and 66 percent of the population are now fully jabbed, slightly below the EU average of more than 67 percent.
Only a few days ago, Austrian leaders said another general lockdown was off the table, however Chancellor Schallenberg said on Friday that new data had made the decision inevitable.
"We have to look reality in the eye: Too many of us have behaved in a disagreeable manner and thus caused enormous human suffering," he said.
This is a major reason for the compulsory vaccination move.
"Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated," Schallenberg told a press conference in the western Tyrol state, where he met regional government heads.
"Sustainably increasing the vaccination rate is the only way to get out of this vicious circle," he said.
He also blamed those refusing to be vaccinated for an "attack on the health system", and said vaccinations were the "exit ticket" out of the pandemic.