Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

Austria has once again entered a full national closure in an effort to contain rapid coronavirus infections as a fourth wave engages Europe.

Monday’s move in the Alpine nation comes as average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks and hospitals in hard-hit states are warning that their intensive care units are approaching peak capacity.

The restriction will last at least 10 days but could expand to 20, officials said. This makes Austria the first Western European country to reintroduce a full closure since vaccines became widely available.

Under the measures, people can only leave home for specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

Non-essential shops have closed and Austrians are being asked to work from home if possible.

Less than 66 percent of Austria’s 8.9 million people have been fully vaccinated, and vaccinations have expanded at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

As it closes again, Austria is also introducing a vaccine mandate from 1 February in an effort to limit the transmission rate, making it the first European country to establish vaccination against COVID-19 as a legal requirement.

The details of how the mandate will work are not yet clear, but the government has said people who do not stick to it will be fined.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologized to all vaccinated people on Friday, saying it was not fair that they should suffer from the renewed lock-in restrictions.

In the past, Austria has introduced a lock-in only for people who have not been vaccinated, but this has not slowed down infections enough.

Record infections

Austria is one of several Western European countries where infections are on the rise and there are concerns that vaccination rates are insufficient to ward off a winter boom in hospitals.

It reported 15,809 new infections on Friday, a high.

Andrew Simmons of Al Jazeera, who reports from Vienna, said European governments would keep a close eye on the situation in Austria as they also considered reintroducing restrictions.

“Across Europe we are seeing a fourth wave, and there is concern among all European governments,” he said.

“Europe is now looking at Austria to see if this restriction will have a profound effect. If it does, we may be looking at full restrictions across Europe.”

The new measures, especially the vaccine mandate, have been met with fierce opposition among some.

A Saturday rally in Vienna, according to police, drew 40,000 people, including members of far-right parties and groups.

Simmons said some Austrians felt the new restrictions and the switch to compulsory vaccination were “too much for them”.

“The protests on Saturday showed how people feel, and people accuse the government of authoritarian tactics,” he said.

Demonstrations against renewed virus restrictions took place over the weekend in other European countries, including Belgium, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that Europe, once again the epicenter of the pandemic, could see 500,000 more COVID-19 deaths by February unless action is taken to stem the spread of the virus.

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