Austria aims to ‘green light’ lockdown for unvaccinated citizens amid infection surge

The government of Austria, one of Central Europe’s least vaccinated nations, said Friday that it will meet this weekend with the aim of implementing lockdown measures for people who have not been immunized against the coronavirus, as infections and hospitalizations have surged in recent days.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg will host the meeting on Sunday but did not say when such measures might take effect, although he said it was likely to be rolled out nationally. Two of Austria’s hardest-hit provinces — Upper Austria and Salzburg — said they will introduce the measure for themselves on Monday, Reuters reported.

“The aim is very clear: that we give the green light this Sunday for a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Schallenberg said at a news conference. “The development is such that I do not think it is sensible to wait.”

He also warned that intensive care units were increasingly strained in the country, which endured three lockdowns last year, a fate Schallenberg said he wanted to avoid repeating.

Schallenberg had hinted Thursday that a lockdown for the unvaccinated was “probably inevitable,” and that they would face an uncomfortable winter and Christmas, according to Osterreichischer Rundfunk, the Austrian public broadcaster. He said, “I don’t understand why two-thirds of people should be restricted because one third is doing nothing.”

On Wednesday, Austria logged a seven-day rolling average of about 9,100 new cases, up from just under 5,500 on the prior Wednesday, according to Our World in Data, which tracks publicly available figures. (The seven-day average of covid deaths increased by roughly 60 percent in the same time period.) Its new case count for every 1 million people is more than double that of neighboring Germany and Switzerland, according to the tracker.

Austria has already tightened some restrictions. As of Monday, proof of vaccination or recent recovery from covid-19 was required to enter events with 25 or more people, hotels, hairdressers and many dining and entertainment venues, according to the government.

In an effort to encourage more people to get vaccinated, partially immunized people who have tested negative for the virus can still enter these locations until Dec. 5.

Austria has fully vaccinated about 63 percent of its population against the coronavirus, according to Our World in Data, meaning that roughly 3 million people are not fully immunized. Although its vaccination rate is greater than the United States’, it is still lower than the European Union. The far-right Freedom Party is the third largest party in parliament, and some Austrians are still skeptical of vaccines.

European authorities have been concerned by a sweeping resurgence of the virus on the continent as winter approaches. Eight out of the 10 countries that recorded the newest infections per 100,000 people during the last week are in Europe, according to Washington Post data.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that Europe was the only region where both coronavirus cases and deaths were increasing. Hans Kluge, WHO’s Europe director, warned that without action, another 500,000 people could die by February, the Associated Press reported.

Adela Suliman contributed to this report.

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