Anger in Austria is mounting as the police began carrying out routine checks to stop two million unvaccinated people from leaving their homes in a lockdown which has been slammed for ‘dividing the society in two’.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said his move towards a national lockdown for the unvaccinated is a ‘dramatic’ one, but said it is necessary to stem soaring infection rates.
The move, which took effect at midnight and affects about two million people in the country of 8.9million, prohibits unvaccinated individuals from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping – or getting vaccinated.
The lockdown does not apply to children under the age of 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated for Covid-19 – though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinations for under-12s as part of a pilot, and reported high demand.
Police patrols have been stepped up and unvaccinated people can be fined up to 1,450 euros (£1,237) if they violate the lockdown.
Following the announcement of the lockdown, which will last for ten days before being reviewed, hundreds of people descended upon the streets of Ballhausplatz in Vienna during an anti-vaccination rally on Sunday.
Protesters held placards in their hands reading ‘no compulsory vaccination’ as they walked through the streets, with some warning that the lockdown is ‘dividing society in two parts’.
‘We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,’ Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio on Monday.
‘This a dramatic step – about 2 million people in this country are affected… what we are trying is precisely to reduce contact between the unvaccinated and vaccinated to a minimum, and also contact between the unvaccinated.’
‘My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated,’ Schallenberg added. ‘In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in – and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown, and that can’t carry on ad infinitum – is only vaccination.’
Following the announcement of the lockdown, which will last for ten days before being reviewed, hundreds of people descended upon the streets of Ballhausplatz in Vienna during an anti-vaccination rally on Sunday
A demonstrator holds a placard saying ‘against compulsory vaccination’ during a protest in Vienna today
People stand in line to get a vaccination against Covid-19 at the “Impfbus” in Salzburg, Austria, on Monday
The lockdown, which is being imposed until November 24, was enforced amid concern over rising infections and increasing pressure on hospitals as a result.
Austria recorded 9,936 coronavirus cases on Sunday – the highest number the country has recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.
The latest outbreak is being blamed on Austria’s vaccination rate of just 65 per cent, a rate that Chancellor Schallenberg has described as ‘shamefully low’ as it leaves a large share of people more vulnerable to infection and severe disease.
The lockdown is being strictly controlled by the police who are now conducting extra checks on the public to check their vaccination status.
Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament, which is planning a protest against the government’s coronavirus policies on Saturday.
During a anti-vaccination protest Vienna at the weekend, Michael, an unemployed 61-year-old anti-vaxxer from Burgenland, told The Telegraph: ‘I cannot approve of the division of society into two parts. It is certainly not good for the country. It will have consequences. I am firmly convinced of that,’ said Michael, an unemployed 61-year-old anti-vaxxer from Burgenland.
Markus, a 40-year-old anti-vaxxer, said: ‘Before Covid, fundamental rights were unconditional.
‘Now we are getting more and more into a point where fundamental rights become conditional. This is always justified as serving a higher purpose. We know from the past, that there was always a higher purpose for which the individual had to sacrifice himself, whether it was God, the empire, the people or the leader.’
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said that police will be checking every person they come across.
‘The lockdown is not a recommendation, but an order,’ he said.
But there are widespread doubts including among Schallenberg’s conservatives and the police about whether this lockdown can be properly enforced.
It can be hard to verify, for example, whether an unvaccinated person is on their way to work, which is allowed, or going to shop for non-essential items, which is not.
In response to the lockdown measures, business chiefs have urged the government to provide a ‘quick extension’ of the economic aid for the sectors who will be particularly affected by the restrictions.
They also called for the government to implement positive incentives for people to get vaccination – a move which bosses say have been ‘required for a long time’.
The leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party vowed to combat the new restrictions by ‘all parliamentary and legal means we have available.’
Herbert Kickl said in a statement that ‘2 million people are being practically imprisoned without having done anything wrong.’
A group of demonstrators hold a placard reading ‘no to compulsory vaccination’ during an anti-vaccination protest at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna
Hundreds of anti-lockdown protestors clashed with riot police in The Hague in the Netherlands on Friday evening
Police officers are seen in The Hague, hours after 200 people there were blasted with water in a bid to disperse demonstrators
Police officers stand guard in The Hague as demonstrators take to the street
Health Minister Wolfgang Muekstein told ORF television that he wants to discuss imposing further measures with government on Wednesday, and said that one proposal on the table is night curfews that would apply to the vaccinated as well.
He said: ‘We’re all in the same boat. If we want to prevent a general lockdown, we need a reduction in contact.’
But in a sign of differing views, Chancellor Schallenberg said he doesn’t expect restrictions on bars and the like at present.
‘Of course I don’t rule out sharpening’ the measures, he told Oe1 radio, adding that he ‘doesn’t see’ any move towards restricting movements at night for the general population.
The chancellor said that further measures could include requiring full medical masks in more places, more working from home and requiring vaccinated people to get tested before going to events.
Children wait in line to receive their first shot of the corona vaccine in Vienna, Austria, on Monday
Residents and business chiefs have spoken of their concern about the lockdown – but some have they believe it is ‘right’ for the measures to be imposed on the unvaccinated.
Harold Mahrer, the boss of the Austrian Economic Chambers, which represents more than 540,000 member companies in Austria, told Weiner Zeitung: ‘Now we need a quick extension of the economic aid for the sectors particularly affected and a quick implementation of the positive incentives for vaccinations that have been required for a long time.’
Trade spokesman Rainer Trefelik warned of high losses for businesses across the country.
He told the newspaper: ‘With this measure, specialist shops have to shut out around 35 per cent of potential customers, so high sales losses are inevitable.
‘Unvaccinated people can buy everything from washing machines to textiles and toys in supermarkets and drugstores, and they would have to be turned away at specialist retailers. Customers break away, but the running costs such as rent and staff remain in full. That is an intolerable situation.’
Trefelik also pointed that retail companies that are dependent on events, as well as tourist businesses will struggle to cope.
But Chancellor Schallenberg provided some reassurance on Monday after he referred to aid programs such as payments for lost compensation and the reduction in VAT in the catering industry which will continue until the end of the year.
‘The finance minister said he would look at it,’ the chancellor said.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said that that millions of citizens who have not been vaccinated would be placed into lockdown from tomorrow
Residents and business chiefs have spoken of their concern about the lockdown – but some have they believe it is ‘right’ for the measures to be imposed on the unvaccinated
One resident from Vienna, identified only as Daniel, told Ruptly: ‘At the moment the coronavirus situation is still quite stable, that is why people do not want to get vaccinated and a lockdown will come for sure.
‘But the last lockdown was very bad and very strong in my opinion. Many people had to stay at home and many stores had to close down and that is why it was very bad for everyone.’
Another local said: ‘I consider it to be correct. There must be protection. There will be no end otherwise.
‘At some point you have to do something. But for sure it is difficult, you can not lock up these people.
‘But I do not understand if you do not get vaccinated. And unfortunately you have to react like that, even though it is not entirely right. But I am in favour. There has to be an end to this. You cannot always have ups and downs, this and that regulation. That does not work.’
Hundreds gathered outside the chancellory for his announcement in a noisy protest on Sunday, waving banners that read ‘No to mandatory vaccination’ and ‘Our body, our freedom to decide’.
‘I’m here to set a sign. We must fight back now… We want to work, we want to help people, but we don’t want to vaccinate ourselves because this is simply our decision,’ Sarah Hein, an unvaccinated 30-year-old hospital worker, told AFP.
The government on Friday announced vaccinations would become mandatory for health workers.
Under current rules, unvaccinated are already banned from restaurants, hotels and cultural venues unless they can show they have recently recovered from the disease.
‘Healthy people are being locked up,’ another demonstrator told AFP, declining to give her name.
In neighbouring Germany, the situation is far worse. Case rates on Monday hit the latest in a string of records, with 303 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
Berlin on Monday became the latest of several German states to limit access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have been vaccinated or recently recovered – shutting out unvaccinated people who have tested negative. Under-18s are exempted.
On Thursday, the German parliament is due to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next government. Those plans are reportedly being beefed up to allow tougher contact restrictions than originally envisioned.
Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign, with just over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, and is trying to ramp up booster shots.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a new appeal on Saturday for holdouts to get vaccinated. ‘Think about it again,’ she said. The country’s disease control center called last week for people to cancel or avoid large events.
To Germany’s west, the Netherlands on Saturday night implemented a partial lockdown that is due to run for at least three weeks.
Restaurants, bars and all nightlife have been ordered to close for business each day no later than 8pm, leaving many streets around the country deserted on what would normally be a bustling time for nightlife.
In the northern city of Leeuwarden, hundreds of young people gathered in a central square, setting off fireworks and holding flares, before riot police moved in to push protesters out.
Dutch police blasted a group of around 200 people in The Hague with water in a bid to disperse demonstrators who had been throwing stones and fireworks in protest on Friday evening.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte was giving a press briefing to the media when protestors clashed with riot police and mounted officers outside the Justice and Security Ministry in the Dutch city.
Later that evening, after flares, projectiles and bicycles were thrown at police, officers were seen hitting fleeing demonstrators with batons as what started as a peaceful protest descended into chaos.
Although death remain low, the Netherlands recorded their highest ever daily infection count positive Covid cases on Friday as medics warned hospitals were being put under huge pressure amid a record-breaking surge of infections.
Referring to the ‘unpleasant’ return of lockdown measures from this Saturday, Mr Rutte said restrictions that the Dutch people had thought had ended for good were being re-imposed for three weeks.