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‘Unavoidable’: How Austria has reacted to the new nationwide lockdown

Austria's government on Friday announced a U-turn by bringing in a new lockdown for the whole population. Here's how people are reacting, from politicians to scientists to The Local's own readers.

'Unavoidable': How Austria has reacted to the new nationwide lockdown
Protestors against Covid-19 measures at an earlier demonstration in Austria. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

Protests planned for Saturday

A major demonstration against Austria’s Covid restrictions and the lockdown for unvaccinated people had already been planned for November 20th, and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) stepped up their calls for people to attend. Several thousand protestors are expected to attend each of three protests planned in the capital — around 10,000 people in total.

FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl is unable to attend the rally as he is in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19. Reacting to Friday’s announcement, he said Austria was now a “dictatorship”.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg directly linked Kickl’s anti-vaccine stance to the country’s low vaccination rate and the need to take harsh measures, saying spreading misinformation about vaccines was “an attack on our healthcare system”.

READ ALSO: Follow the latest Covid-19 developments as they happen

Regional leaders

Tyrol governor Günther Platter and Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig joined the chancellor and health minister at the press conference.

Both acknowledged that this was a measure they had hoped to avoid and that they knew would be unpopular, with Ludwig saying: “We can take the criticism, because this is about saving lives.”

He added that he could have “made it easy” for himself by avoiding lockdown in Vienna, due to the comparatively lower incidence rate, but said the nationwide situation called for “solidarity”.

Asked about the protests planned in the capital for Saturday, Ludwig said: “I ask the media to spread what science knows, and to counter the absurd ideas [that the Covid vaccines are unsafe].” 

The governor of Vorarlberg, Markus Wallner, has said the decision to bring in a general lockdown was “unavoidable”.

Doctors welcome measures

“The record numbers of infections that we have now been experienced day after day will be reflected in the normal and intensive care units with a time lag. It is really high time for an emergency break,” Walter Hasibeder, President of the Austrian intensive care representative body ÖGARI, said according to the Kurier.

“From our point of view, there are no alternatives to an even stronger restriction on contacts, therefore all measures are to be welcomed. It’s late, though. It is of course the order of the day that people who have not yet been vaccinated [do so] and those who have already been immunised think of the booster dose in good time.”

Austrian residents

Readers of The Local have been getting in touch to share their views, and frustration and anger at the new measures were common sentiments as people talked of their pre-Christmas plans being cancelled (the lockdown is currently expected to last until December 13th).

“I’m vaccinated. I got vaccinated in order to not have my freedom restricted. My freedom is now being restricted because of anti-vaxxers, and my children’s lives put on hold again […] This really isn’t right or fair,” one comment said.

But there were also voices of support for the decision.

“I am completely fine with the requirement for lockdown. The minority of people who are unvaccinated are behaving irresponsibly and thinking ‘my body my choice’ but they don’t seem to understand that their body spreads the virus to other people, even the vaccinated, so they are being selfish by perpetuating the continued spread of the virus,” one reader, Michael in St. Johann im Pongau, told us.

He said: “I think the Austrian government are doing exactly the right thing.”

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

Businesses call for support 

At the press conference announcing the lockdown, the government said economic measures to support affected businesses would also be extended.

A winter lockdown will hit the tourism and hospitality industries particularly hard, with all non-essential businesses also needing to close and others switching to take-away only.

Rainer Trefelik, head of the Chamber of Commerce, told the APA press agency that the new lockdown was a “historical catastrophe that could have been avoided”.

He said that retailers were experiencing “huge frustration and disappointment”, and needed financial support.

Teachers blast lack of clarity over schools

One of the points of confusion in the lockdown is the issue of schools. These will not be officially closed, remaining open to “those who need them” although the government has said parents should keep their children at home if at all possible.

“Political communication is a catastrophe — you hear something different from every side,” said teachers’ union representative Paul Kimberger, speaking to news agency APA. “I have my doubts whether these measures will really reduce the extremely high incidence in schools.”

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COVID-19 ALERT

‘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.

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