BERLIN (AP) — Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step Monday of implementing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven’t recently had COVID-19, perhaps the most drastic of a string of measures being taken by European governments to get a massive regional resurgence of the virus under control.
The move, which took effect at midnight, prohibits people 12 and older who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going to school or university or for a walk — or getting vaccinated.
In the Alpine country with 8.9 million inhabitants, the lockdown will be in place until Nov. 24, but it is not being extended. It doesn’t apply to children under 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated — though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinationsAs part of the pilot project, we reported high demand for services for children below 12 years.
Officials state that police will increase patrols and inspections. Unvaccinated persons can face a fine of up to 1,450 Euros ($1,660) for violating the lockdown.
“We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio. “This a dramatic step — about 2 million people in this country are affected. … What we are trying is precisely to reduce contact between the unvaccinated and vaccinated to a minimum, and also contact between the unvaccinated.”
“My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated,” Schallenberg added. “In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”
About 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, a rate Schallenberg described as “shamefully low.” All students at schools, whether vaccinated or not, are now required to take three COVID-19 tests per week, at least one of them a PCR test.
The leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party vowed to combat the new restrictions by “all parliamentary and legal means we have available.” Herbert Kickl said that “two million people are being practically imprisoned without having done anything wrong.”
Kickl made the announcement on Monday Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days, so he won’t be able to attend a protest in Vienna planned for Saturday.
The authorities are worried about the rising incidence of infections and increased hospital pressure. On Monday, Austria recorded an increase of 894.3 cases per 100,000 people over seven days. It is worse than Germany’s neighbor, Austria, with 303 new cases for every 100,000 inhabitants in the past seven days.
Berlin on Monday became the latest of several German states to limit access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have been vaccinated or recently recovered — shutting out other unvaccinated people, even those who have tested negative. The exemption applies to those under the age of 18.
On Thursday, the German parliament is due to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next coalition government. According to reports, those plans have been bolstered in order to permit stricter contact restrictions.
Separately one of three German parties that are hoping to win the election next month stated they would consider mandating vaccines in specific areas. Officials have so far resisted this idea.
“We will need compulsory vaccination … in nursing homes, in day care centers and so on,” said the Greens’ parliamentary group leader, Katrin Goering-Eckardt.
Germany’s vaccination campaign has been struggling with a lack of momentum. Only 2/3rds have been fully vaccinated. Germany, however, is working to improve its booster shot program.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a new appealSaturday is the last day for those who aren’t vaccinated. “Think about it again,” she said. The country’s disease control center called last weekIt is possible to cancel or skip large events.
To Germany’s west, the Netherlands on Saturday nightThe partial lockdown will be in effect for three weeks and bars and restaurants must close by 8 p.m. Many young protestors gathered at a square in the Dutch northern city Leeuwarden to demonstrate the restrictions. They set off fireworks and held flares before the police arrived to force them out.
The Austrian government’s next move may well be to tighten the screws.
ORF television was informed by Wolfgang Mueckstein, Health Minister. He said he would like to talk about further restrictions to coronavirus on Wednesday. One suggestion is to limit the time you can go out after dark. This proposal would apply also to those who have been vaccinated.
Schallenberg was however more careful.
“Of course I don’t rule out sharpening” the measures, he said, but he indicated that he doesn’t expect restrictions on bars and nighclubs at present.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic