VIENNA (AP) — Austria will go into a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Friday, as new COVID-19 infections hit a record high amid a pandemic surge across Europe.

Schallenberg explained that the initial lockdown period will be for 10 days and will commence Monday. Starting February 1, vaccinations will be mandatory in the United States.

The majority of stores will shut down and all cultural events cancelled next week. Only certain reasons will allow people to travel from their home to buy groceries or to exercise.

Wolfgang Mueckstein, the country’s health minister, said that kindergartens and schools would remain open for those who needed to go there but all parents were asked to keep their children at home if possible.

“We do not want a fifth wave,” Schallenberg said, according to ORF. “Nor do we want a sixth or seventh wave.”

To control the rapidly increasing number of cases, the full lockdown was implemented. It’s the fourth nationwide lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. The country recorded 15,809 infections on Friday, an unprecedented high.

Austria had earlier this month introduced new rules barred unvaccinated peopleRestaurants, hotels, and big events. Starting Monday, the government will start imposing restrictions on a national lockdown only for the unvaccinated.

Government officials had long promised that vaccinated people would no longer face lockdown restrictions: Over the summer, then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared the pandemic “over” for those who had received the vaccine. As the number of cases rose, however, government officials felt no other choice than to expand it to all. “This is very painful,” Schallenberg said.

Mueckstein, the health minister, said many factors contributed to the current situation, including Austria’s lower-than-expected vaccination rate and the seasonal impact of the virus. But he also apologized for state and federal leaders’ initial reluctance to implement stronger measures.

“Unfortunately, even we as the federal government have fallen short of our standards in some areas,” he said. “I want to apologize for that.”

After 10 days, the lockdown’s effects will be assessed. It can be extended for up to 20 days if the virus case count is not sufficiently low.

Austria’s intensive care doctors welcomed the government’s decision.

“The record infection figures that we have now experienced day after day will only be reflected in normal and intensive care units with a time lag. It really is high time for a full stop,” Walter Hasibeder, the president of the Society for Anesthesiology, Resuscitation and Intensive Care Medicine, told Austrian news agency APA.

“Given the current infection developments, we believe there are no alternatives to even greater contact restriction than recently, so any measures that help curb the momentum are welcome,” he added.

Infections have increased by more than 10% in seven days. There have been many COVID-19 new patients flooding hospitals. The death toll has also been increasing. In Austria, the virus has claimed 11951 lives.

Particularly dire is the situation in Salzburg and Upper Austria where the increasing number of cases has made it difficult for them to cope. For example, in Salzburg, the rate of new infections per seven days is almost twice that of the national average.

In recent days, hospitals across both countries warned that ICUs had reached capacity. Hospitals in Salzburg began discussing possible triage options to only take the most serious cases.

Austria, a country of 8.9 million, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe — only 65.7% of the population are fully vaccinated.

Schallenberg claimed that, despite the many campaigns and persuasiveness, people still have not decided to be vaccinated. Therefore, mandatory vaccinations were introduced in February.

While the chancellor indicated that details will be finalized within the coming weeks, anyone refusing to get vaccinated could face a penalty. All those who have been vaccinated are eligible for booster shots beginning four months after the last dose.

“For a long time, the consensus in this country was that we didn’t want mandatory vaccination,” Schallenberg said. “For a long time, perhaps too long.”


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