BERLIN – On Monday Austria took the step described by its head of state as a “dramatic” step to implement a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who have not recently contracted Covid-19, regional resurgence of the virus under control.
The move, which went into effect at midnight, bans anyone ages 12 and older who have not been vaccinated or have recently recovered from leaving their home except for basic activities like work, grocery shopping, going to school or university, or going for a walk – or vaccinated.
The lockdown will initially apply until November 24 in the Alpine country of 8.9 million. It does not apply to children under 12 years of age, as they cannot yet be officially vaccinated – although the capital Vienna will be on Monday Vaccinations open for under 12-year-olds as part of a pilot project and reported high demand.
Officials say police patrols and controls will be stepped up and unvaccinated people can be fined up to 1,450 euros ($ 1,660) for breaking the lockdown.
“We really didn’t take this step easily and I think it shouldn’t be downplayed,” said Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg to Oe1 Radio. “This is a dramatic step – around 2 million people in this country are affected. … We are currently trying to reduce the contact between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated to a minimum and also the contact between the unvaccinated. “
“My goal is clearly to get the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and not to lock the vaccinated,” said Schallenberg. “In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we find ourselves in – and it’s a vicious circle, we stumble from wave to lock and that cannot go on indefinitely – just vaccination.”
About 65 percent of the Austrian population are fully vaccinated, a rate that Schallenberg describes as “shamefully low”. All students in schools, whether vaccinated or not, are now required to take three Covid-19 tests per week, at least one of which is a PCR test.
The leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party promised to fight the new restrictions with “all parliamentary and legal means at our disposal.” Herbert Kickl said that “two million people are practically imprisoned without doing anything wrong”.
On Monday, Kickl announced on Facebook that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to self-isolate for 14 days so that he could not take part in a protest rally planned for Saturday in Vienna.
Authorities are concerned about rising infections and increasing pressure on hospitals. Austria recorded 894.3 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past seven days on Monday. That is far worse than neighboring Germany, which recently set its own pandemic records and recorded 303 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days.
On Monday, Berlin was the last of several German federal states to restrict access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have been vaccinated or recently recovered – and exclude other unvaccinated people, even those who tested negative. Children under the age of 18 are exempt.
On Thursday, the German Bundestag will vote on a new legal framework for the coronavirus restrictions that will be drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next coalition government. These plans are reportedly being stepped up to allow for tighter contact restrictions than originally planned.
Regardless of this, one of the three German parties that want to take office next month said they would introduce a vaccine mandate in some areas, a move that officials have so far been reluctant to take.
“We will need vaccination requirements … in nursing homes, in day-care centers and so on,” said the group leader of the Greens, Katrin Göring-Eckardt.
Germany is struggling to re-launch its vaccination campaign, with just over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, and is trying to increase the booster vaccination.
In western Germany, the Netherlands on Saturday night implemented a partial lockdown of at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. before riot police moved to evict protesters.
The next step by the Austrian government could be to tighten the screws.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein told ORF television that he wanted to discuss further coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday and said one proposal would be restrictions on going out at night that would also apply to vaccinated people.
But Schallenberg sounded more cautious.
“Of course, I am not ruling out tightening,” he said, but indicated that he currently does not expect any restrictions on bars and nightclubs.