VIENNA (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters, many from far-right groups, marched through Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown beginning Monday to contain the country’s skyrocketing coronavirus infections.
Members of extreme-right and far-right groups and parties were among those who protested, such as the Freedom Party, anti-vaccine MFG, and the extrem-right Identitarians.
On Saturday, demonstrations against the restriction of virus were held in Italy, Croatia, and Switzerland. In rioting against COVID-19, seven were hurt and police in the Netherlands opened fire.
The Austrian lockdown The process will commence Monday. Officials said that it would initially last 10 days. However, it may extend to up to 20 days. Many stores and cultural events are going to be closed. Individuals will only be allowed to leave their homes for specific purposes, such as to purchase groceries, exercise, or go to the doctor.
Austria’s government stated that vaccinations would be compulsory starting on February 1.
The march Saturday kicked off at Vienna’s massive Heldenplatz square. About 1,300 police officers were on duty, and 35,000 protesters participated in different marches across the city, police said, adding that most didn’t wear masks.
Chanting “Resistance!” and blowing whistles, protesters moved down the city’s inner ring road. Numerous protesters waved Austrian flags, and held signs mocking the government officials such as Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein and Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg. Some wore doctor’s scrubs; others donned tinfoil hats. Most signs focused on the upcoming vaccine mandate: “My Body, My Choice,” read one. “We’re Standing Up for Our Kids!” said another.
Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week and had to stay in isolation, made an appearance at the rally via video, denouncing what he called “totalitarian” measures from a government “that believes it should think and decide for us.”
Austria has seen a plateau in vaccinations, with one of the lowest rates across Western Europe. Hospitals in hard-hit states warned that they are nearing capacity. The number of daily average deaths has increased by threefold in the past week. Not quite 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated.
Schallenberg apologized to all vaccinated people on Friday, saying it wasn’t fair they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.
“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” he said on public broadcaster ORF.
In neighboring Switzerland, 2,000 people protested an upcoming referendum on whether to approve the government’s COVID-19 restrictions law, claiming it was discriminary, public broadcaster SRF reported.
A day after the Rotterdam rioting, thousands gathered Saturday on Amsterdam’s central Dam Square to protest the government’s coronavirus restrictions, despite organizers calling off the protest. They walked peacefully through the city’s streets, closely monitored by police.
A number of hundred people marched in protest against lockdown restrictions through Breda, a southern Dutch municipality. One organizer, Joost Eras, told Dutch broadcaster NOS he didn’t expect violence after consulting with police about security measures.
“We certainly don’t support what happened in Rotterdam. We were shocked by it,” he told NOS.
In France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Saturday condemned violent protests in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, one of France’s overseas territories, over COVID-19 restrictions. Darmanin stated that 29 persons were detained overnight by the police. The island was being manned by 200 additional police officers. On Tuesday, a nightly curfew will be imposed from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m.
Guadeloupe protestors have set fire to cars and staged road blocksades. They denounce France’s COVID-19 health pass that is now required to access restaurants and cafes, cultural venues, sport arenas and long-distance travel. They are also protesting France’s mandatory vaccinations for health care workers.
Mike Corder was based in The Hague (Netherlands), Sylvie Corder reported on Paris.