Austria reimposes full lockdown, plans to make COVID vaccines compulsory
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full coronavirus lockdown this autumn to tackle a new wave of infections, and will require its whole population to get vaccinated as of February, the government said on Friday.
Roughly two-thirds of Austria's population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Much of the public is sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament. It is planning a protest against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday.
Austria introduced a lockdown for those who are not fully vaccinated on Monday but since then infections have continued to set new records. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.
"We have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated," Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference, saying the lockdown would start on Monday and last up to 20 days. The blanket requirement to get vaccinated will start on Feb. 1, he added.
"It hurts that such measures still have to be taken."
With cold weather setting in across Europe, governments have been forced to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns against continued COVID-19 contagion. The Netherlands is now in partial lockdown with bars and restaurants closing at 8 p.m.
The issue has deepened a rift between Schallenberg's conservatives and their coalition partner, the left-wing Greens. Schallenberg said only days ago he did not want to impose extra restrictions on the unvaccinated, even as Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called for a nighttime curfew.
"Too many among us have not shown enough solidarity. I ask you all to help. Take part, support these measures, let us try to reduce our social contacts for a maximum of 20 days so that the Christmas holidays are protected," Schallenberg said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich)