Austria is extending the blockade to its entire population, becoming the first EU country to take such a measure in the face of the resurgence of COVID-19.
The Alpine country is also the first EU nation to make vaccination mandatory, and says this will be implemented from February 1.
The new measures were announced by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Friday morning after talks with regional governors. “We have to look reality in the face,” he told a news conference in Tyrol.
Last Monday, Vienna announced a national lockdown for the unvaccinated. That has now spread to everyone as Austria struggles to contain a fourth wave of the coronavirus.
“We do not want a fifth wave,” said the chancellor, according to the public broadcaster ORF. “We don’t want a sixth or seventh wave either.”
The lockdown will start on Monday
Schallenberg said the lockdown will start on Monday and will initially last 10 days. Most stores will close and cultural events will be canceled.
Austria’s health minister said schools would remain open for those who needed to go there, but all parents were asked to keep their children at home if possible.
Under the blockade for the unvaccinated announced earlier this week, people over the age of 12 are prohibited from going outside except for essential activities such as work, attending classes, essential shopping or going for a walk.
After 10 days, the effects will be evaluated and if the virus cases have not decreased enough, the blockage can be extended to a maximum of 20 days.
The latest data shows that COVID infections in Austria have skyrocketed in recent weeks. The number of daily cases tripled in November to more than 15,000 on Thursday. The country’s per capita infection rate is the highest so far this year.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new COVID-19 patients and deaths have also risen again.
Mandatory vaccination from February 1
The chancellor also addressed the decision to make vaccines against COVID-19 mandatory.
“Despite months of persuasion work, we have failed to convince enough people to get vaccinated,” Schallenberg said Friday, lamenting the overload of intensive care units.
“Increasing the vaccination rate in a lasting way is the only way out of this vicious circle,” he added, saying that this was the “ticket out” of the pandemic.
Just over 64% of Austria’s population of 8.9 million was listed as fully vaccinated against COVID on November 19, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). This is well below the Western European average, although the figure for the EU as a whole is 65.5%.
For now, vaccination appears to have kept deaths low. In the week ending November 14, there were 35 deaths per million residents.
At the peak of an outbreak late last year, that figure stood at 169.
“We have too many political forces in this country that are vehemently opposed” to vaccination, complained the foreign minister, denouncing an “attack against our health system.”
Austrian authorities said on November 17 that travelers would have to show a negative PCR test upon entering the country. Previously, cheaper lateral flow test results were allowed.
Across Europe, the pandemic has accelerated and several countries have announced more restrictions in recent days to contain the increase in cases.
German authorities decided Thursday to target the unvaccinated, restricting their access to the workplace and public transportation.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Greece have also announced similar measures in recent days.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism