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.
Unvaccinated people in the country are already prohibited from leaving their homes 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 compulsory Covid vaccination in Austria will be mandatory 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 marks a major U-turn for Austria’s Chancellor, who only last week told reporters 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 on lockdown once coronavirus patients occupied 30% of intensive care beds in hospitals – a move that went into effect 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 this week carried out spot checks on people over the age of 12 who are currently under the current lockdown if they are not vaccinated in order to confirm the people’s vaccination status.
While Schallenberg had previously refused to lock down all Austrians, some members of the country’s coalition government called for stricter restrictions for those vaccinated as hospitals and intensive care units were increasingly burdened.
The third largest party in the country, the right-wing FPÖ, sees the government being pushed back, which said on Friday: “Austria has been a dictatorship since today”.
The party is openly skeptical of Covid vaccines and had planned a demonstration against the lockdown measures for unvaccinated people in Vienna over the weekend.