Since today Monday, November 22, strict rules apply in Austria again lockdownmeasures, while a week ago another lockdown came into effect for only the unvaccinated. Compulsory vaccination will follow early next year. What’s going on in the Alpine country with its low vaccination rates?
1. Why does the government in Vienna consider this fourth overall lockdown – as the first European country this autumn – necessary?
‘We had to do something,’ Austrian health minister Wolfgang Mückstein told ORF on Sunday evening. He compares the lockdown with a ‘sledgehammer’: a heavy, but necessary means to combat the number of infections. In his country, the number of new COVID infections fluctuates around the fifteen thousand a day. Measured in terms of population, this is comparable to the Netherlands. But the number has risen sharply in recent weeks, and with that there is a risk of a stroke in the hospitals. A committee of experts has been set up in the Salzburg region to determine who has priority for admission to intensive care.
2.What does this hold lockdown exactly in?
These are largely the same measures as those taken during previous years lockdowns were introduced. For ten days, locations where many people gather: theaters, museums, restaurants and cafes will close. Also ‘non-essential things’ such as hairdressers must be closed. In practice, supermarkets, drugstores and pharmacies are doing the trick. The Christmas markets, also popular in Austria, are being cancelled, but ski lifts will remain open, so as not to spoil the ski season in advance. But the ski slopes remain reserved for vaccinated people, because you must be able to show a vaccination certificate at the ski lifts. Citizens are allowed to go outside, but they are only allowed to meet one person from another household at a time. Schools remain open.
The measures will remain in effect until December 12, after ten days the situation will be evaluated to see if an extension is necessary.
In Vienna there were – like in many European countries – protests against the renewed lockdown. An estimated 30,000 protesters took to the streets. In the city of Linz, two arrested teenagers and a 20-year-old man confessed that they planned to spray police officers with petrol and then set them on fire. In protest against the new lockdown, which according to the trio is an unauthorized restriction of their freedom. A week ago, they had already set a car on fire, filmed their act and posted it online.
3.Why then are Austrians vaccinated so little that all this is apparently necessary?
With 65 percent of the population fully vaccinated, Austria is lagging behind in Western Europe – in Romania, for example, the vaccination rate is even lower. In comparison: the Netherlands is at about 88 percent. Also in neighboring Switzerland, no more than two-thirds of citizens have been vaccinated against the corona virus. According to correspondent Renske Heddema there is great aversion, especially in rural areas. This is partly due to the culture of these mountain regions: the capital is often far away, and citizens are accustomed not to be too bothered by what is ordered on the other side of the mountains. And the greater degree of self-reliance prevents residents from quickly registering for a shot. In Northern Italy (South Tyrol) there is the same reluctance and also a low vaccination coverage.
To raise the vaccination rate, the government in Vienna decided last week that lockdownmeasures would initially apply to the unvaccinated only. Unvaccinated people were only allowed to go to work or to go to ‘essential shops’. But that hardly led to more vaccinations. And the number of infections also did not fall sharply enough in the eyes of the drivers. And so, shortly before the weekend, the fourth overall lockdown proclaimed. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg emphasized that the restrictive measures for unvaccinated people have no end date yet.
4. Do the Austrians think they can manage with this?
New. The most controversial new measure is that there will be a law which should make compulsory vaccination possible for all Austrians. The law should come into effect on February 1. If you do not cooperate, you could be fined 3,600 euros, if you refuse a booster shot, 1,500 euros.
Chancellor Schallenberg apologized on Friday that his government had failed to convince more Austrians to get vaccinated. He also complained that there are “too many political parties that have turned against vaccinations”. According to him, a high vaccination rate is the only way out of the health crisis.