Austria orders lockdown for unvaccinated starting on Monday

The lockdowns across the Alpine country are to be enforced with random spot checks for the next 10 days. PHOTO: AFP

VIENNA (AFP, REUTERS) - Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Sunday (Nov 14) that a nationwide lockdown would begin on Monday for those not vaccinated against Covid-19 or who have not recently recovered from the coronavirus, as the European Union member fights a record surge in cases.

Around 65 per cent of Austria's almost nine million people are vaccinated, below the EU average of 67 per cent, while daily increases in infections have hit records this week.

"The situation is serious... We don't take this step with a light heart but unfortunately, it is necessary," Mr Schallenberg told reporters.

The lockdown means people over the age of 12 who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered will not be allowed to leave the house except for reasons such as buying essential supplies, exercise or to seek medical care.

Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in Parliament.

The measures on Monday will extend those brought in a week ago which banned the unvaccinated from places including restaurants, hotels, theatres and ski lifts.

While the Netherlands is dealing with its surge in cases by imposing a partial lockdown that applies to all, Austria's conservative-led government wants to avoid imposing further restrictions on those who are fully vaccinated.

"In reality, we have told one-third of the population: You will not leave your apartment anymore apart from for certain reasons. That is a massive reduction in contacts between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated," Mr Schallenberg said.

Germany has already classified Austria as a high-risk area, meaning people arriving from there have to go into quarantine, a blow to Austria's winter tourism industry.

Targeted measures have recently been introduced in Australia, where 83 per cent of people aged 16 and above have been fully inoculated. Some states have mandated vaccinations for some occupations and barred the unvaccinated from activities such as dining out, leading to demonstrations.

Singapore, where 85 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, has said those who remained unvaccinated by choice would have to foot their medical bills from next month.

Austria's lockdown, which does not apply to the under-12s or people who have recently recovered from Covid-19, will initially last 10 days, and will be enforced with random spot checks, Health Minister Wolfgang Muckstein said.

Many officials, including within Mr Schallenberg's conservative party and the police, have expressed doubts this lockdown can be properly enforced as it applies to only part of the population.

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said there will be thorough police checks and fines of up to €1,450 euros (S$2,250) for breaches, and all interactions with the police will include checking people's vaccination status.

"As of tomorrow, every citizen, every person who lives in Austria must be aware that they can be checked by the police," Mr Nehammer told the news conference.

Showing an official Covid-19 pass proving that you have been vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or recently tested has been required for months in various places including restaurants, theatres, cafes and hairdressers.

As of Monday non-essential shops, where no such passes are required, will be off-limits to the unvaccinated, but the only checks will be spot checks by the police, Mr Nehammer said.

Parliament - controlled by Mr Schallenberg's conservative-Green coalition - is expected to approve the measure later on Sunday.

Mr Schallenberg and Mr Muckstein called again on those who have not yet been vaccinated to get jabbed.

Also from Monday, Vienna will become the first region in the EU to offer jabs to children from the age of five to 11 at a vaccination centre in the capital.

Appointments were booked for more than 5,000 children when registration opened on Saturday, the city said.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet issued an authorisation for any of the vaccines to be used for this age group, though member states have the right to do so in a public health emergency.

Last week, the government had already said that only those vaccinated against or have recovered from the virus would be allowed into restaurants, hotels and cultural venues.

So far, some 11,700 people infected with the coronavirus have died in Austria. Daily case increases hit an all-time high of more than 13,000 new infections on Saturday.

Austria has one of the continent's highest infection rates, with a seven-day incidence of 815 per 100,000 people.

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