Austria declares nationwide lockdown as Covid circumstances surge

Police officers monitor compliance with the lockdown for unvaccinated persons on November 15, 2021 in Innsbruck, Austria.

Jan Hetfleisch | Getty Images

Austria will initiate a fourth national lockdown on Monday as Covid-19 cases continue to rise and become the first country in Western Europe to impose strict measures this fall.

The country’s unvaccinated are already prevented from leaving home for non-essential purposes.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced on Friday at a press conference that these blocking measures will be extended to the entire country from Monday. The lockdown would last a maximum of 20 days, said Schallenberg, but initially for 10 days.

He also announced that the Covid vaccination will be mandatory in Austria from February 1st.

On Thursday, Austria recorded 15,145 new cases of Covid-19, setting a new record high for daily positive tests. Hospital stays, deaths and the number of Covid patients in the intensive care unit are also increasing sharply in Austria.

Around 65% of the Austrian population are fully vaccinated against the virus, which Schallenberg previously described as “shamefully low”. After Liechtenstein, the country has the second lowest vaccination rate in Western Europe.

The Austrian Press Agency reported that the government ministers were negotiating until the early hours of Friday morning to work out measures that could help contain Austria’s escalating Covid crisis.

The implementation of a nationwide lockdown means a significant U-turn for Austria’s Chancellor, the told reporters just last week that the two-thirds of the population who had accepted the vaccination would not be forced to show “solidarity” with the unvaccinated.

The government’s original plan was to put unvaccinated people under lockdown once coronavirus patients occupied 30% of intensive care beds in hospitals – a move that came into effect on Monday.

However, the move has been criticized for being difficult to enforce as unvaccinated people were still given some freedoms to go to work, do their grocery shopping, and meet certain people outdoors.

Austrian police officers were carry out random checks this week to people over the age of 12 – who are currently blocked if they have not been vaccinated – to confirm their vaccination status.

While Schallenberg had previously refused to lock down all Austrians, some were members of the country’s coalition government call for stricter restrictions on those who have been vaccinated as hospitals and intensive care units were increasingly stressed.

The third largest party in the country, the right-wing FPÖ, pushed back the government, which said on Friday: “Austria is a dictatorship from today”.

The party was openly skeptical of Covid vaccines and had planned a demonstration against the lockdown measures for unvaccinated people in Vienna over the weekend.